Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 8-8.5/10

Creed (2015)

And yet, Rocky’s statue isn’t at the top of the steps anymore.

Shortly before he died at the savage hands of Ivan Drago, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) had an affair with a woman that led to the birth of a son, Adonis. While many years later, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) doesn’t keep the “Creed” name and instead, decides to go with his biological mother’s last name, “Johnson”. However, no matter how much Adonis may want to make it seem like he’s not like his father, he’s still following the same path; not only does he want to become a professional boxer, but he also wants to do so in a matter that gains him respect and gratitude from those around him. Though Adonis is quite wealthy and doesn’t have to be fighting, he still feels like he owes it to himself, as well as his daddy’s legacy, which is why he decides to take a trip to Philadelphia and track down his late father’s old buddy/trainer/opponent, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). While Rocky is reluctant to train Adonis at first, eventually, he gives in and decides to teach the young man a thing or two about not only controlling his mind in the ring, but out of it, as well. This leads to Adonis trying to make a name for himself in the world of professional boxing, where the conversation always seems to lead more towards who his father is, and less about what sort of talents he actually has as a boxer.

Fedora or no fedora, Sly will still throw down.

Fedora or no fedora, Sly will still throw down.

A lot of people are worried about Creed. The reason for this has solely to do with the fact that the Rocky movies, minus the first, are all pretty silly and, dare I say it, bad. While Rocky will forever and always be considered a classic (as well as it should be), the other various sequels feel as if they do nothing more than just hurt that movie’s great legacy, rather than assist it. Don’t get me wrong, the sequels are all still fine and entertaining, but each and everyone has taken on a different sort of following that has less to do with the underdog, likable spirit of the first movie and more with how over-the-top and cheesy everything in the late-70’s-to-early-90’s were. Therefore, because of these movies not being quite as up-to-par as the iconic original, Creed is looked at as, yet again, another cash-cow for the Rocky franchise.

But have no fear, everybody: Despite it being the seventh installment in said franchise, Creed is possibly the best Rocky movie since the first.

Granted, it’s not saying much, but still, pretty much is.

The main reason as to why Creed works so well and isn’t just another heartless, soulless piece of franchise cinema, is because the talent involved with it, really do seem to genuinely care about where they take this story next. It’s actually quite surprising that no one has yet to even try and create a movie focusing in on Apollo’s family, but regardless of how long it took, it’s great to see that it attracted director Ryan Coogler, who, with Fruitvale Station a few years ago, showed a fresh, young and energetic voice that was desperately wanting to be heard. While Creed is maybe less preachy and topical as that movie, Coogler still does a nice enough job in adding just enough heart and emotion that makes this seem like more than just a traditional boxing movie – it’s got plenty more heart than that.

And of course, most of this can all be chalked up to the fact that Adonis Creed/Johnson, is a pretty well-written character to have your movie revolve around. While there’s no denying that the character of Rocky Balboa will forever and always remain legendary, there’s something sad and heartfelt about Adonis’ road to boxing that makes his journey all the more engaging. Though most fighters are simply fighting because it’s all that they are able to do and make money with, Adonis is doing it more to figure out just where he comes from and exactly who his father was. He doesn’t specifically say this from the very beginning, but it’s clear that, from the very beginning, he’s boxing for a reason and he’ll continue to search for it until he finds it.

It also deserves to be said that Michael B. Jordan, as usual, is stellar as Adonis. Jordan, as he’s done with his past few performances, has shown a genuine sincerity to each and everyone of his characters who, may not always make the smartest decisions out there, but have nice enough hearts that you want to see where they go and what happens to them next. That Adonis is already made to be a superstar like his late, great father, makes him coming to terms with what that all means, quite touching and honest – something that a Rocky movie hasn’t been in quite some time.

Oh, and yeah, while I’m at it, I guess I might as well talk about Rocky, the character, considering that, after all, this movie is sort of about him, too.

There’s no denying the fact that Sylvester Stallone is a good actor; while he definitely has certain limitations to his range, the guy has a few handful of key, interesting performances that shows he’s capable of taking a character and doing wonders with him. Granted, he needs the right guidance to do so, or he just ends up looking and sounding like a blubbering mess, but nonetheless, Sly Stallone is a fine actor. His only problem is that when he’s not appearing in bad flicks, he’s directing himself, and that doesn’t always tend to get the best performance out of him.

However, with Coogler’s direction, Sly digs deeper into Rocky than ever before; rather than just seeing the funny, charismatic and simple Italian Stallion from Philadelphia, we see someone who is coming to terms with the fact of his own existence. There’s plenty talk in this movie about how Rocky is old and may be joining the likes of Paulie and Adrian quite soon, which is not only hard-to-watch, but even harder to fully accept – this is Rocky, dammit! He’s the one and only underdog!

Is anybody else struck by the uncanny resemblance this scene has to this scene in Magic Mike? Just throwing that out there.

Is anybody else struck by the uncanny resemblance this scene has to this scene in Magic Mike? Just throwing that out there.

How can he lose! Better yet, how can he die!

Well, as the movie, as well as Sly’s powerful performance, shows, it’s quite simple: He just can. He’s older now and his bones don’t quite work as well as they used to. That’s why, when we get scenes of Rocky and Adonis training together, whether it be through soft-boxing, punching the bag, jumping rope, jogging, or walking up those infamous steps, it’s hard not to get a twinkle in your eye, a smile on your face, and a warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. In a way, it almost seems like Sly himself, is genuinely happy portraying this role all over again, but like I said, it isn’t just another one of those performances we’ve seen from him before. He’s more raw, understated and interesting than he’s ever been before and it shows just the kind of talent Sly was and, in ways, still is.

He just needs the right people to guide him along every so often.

And because there’s plenty of emotion concerning these characters, the fights themselves pack on an extra punch as well. That we know Adonis needs these fights more than anything, makes it especially hard to watch as he continuously gets beaten to a near-bloody pulp, just to prove that he has what it takes. In a way, it’s almost self-abusive, but it’s still compelling to watch because we care for Adonis and the reason for why it is that he’s fighting. Not to mention that Coogler, too, does a great job at filming these boxing-sequences that make them still feel fresh and exciting.

On a side note, though, Creed also works best, just like the original Rocky, as a nice little postcard of Philadelphia. Being from and currently living in Philadelphia, it was great to see my city not just get a whole lot of attention, but also be discussed and portrayed in a way that makes it seem like a lovely city where anyone can come, find themselves, and achieve all sorts of greatness. For some people living in Philly, they may not believe this all to be true, but still, it’s great to see my city get a much-deserved spotlight, as well as also give me something to point at when talking to my friends about what location, was shown when.

Basically, I’ll just be a tour-guide from here on out.

Consensus: Like it’s well-known predecessors, Creed is a conventional boxing flick, but still features enough heart, emotion and good performances that make this seventh installment still an interesting, if also, fun watch.

8 / 10

Looks like he's got his, "Yo Adrian!" yell down perfectly.

Looks like he’s got his, “Yo Adrian!” yell down perfectly.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Brooklyn (2015)

If Jay-Z raps about it, you know it’s a pretty cool place.

Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is a young girl from Ireland who’s getting a bit tired of the mundane life she’s currently living. She has a nice job, and gets along with her sister and mother just fine, but doesn’t know what’s really keeping her. That’s why, when she hears about a boat leaving for the U.S., Eilis gets hops aboard, and heads for Brooklyn, New York. While she’s initially homesick and scared, Eilis begins to get used to the way New York is and all of the promise it holds for her. Not only does she have a cashier job at a fancy store, she’s also caught the eye of a local Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen). Though Eilis isn’t quite experienced with boys, she decides to give Tony a chance anyway and eventually, the two start to hit it off; despite their two very different backgrounds, they still find ways to connect and make each other happy. However, a situation at home forces Eilis to come back to Ireland, which then makes her reconsider what she’s been doing with her life and leave her to wonder whether or not she wants to stay home, or go back to Brooklyn, where anything and everything is possible?

Is this love?

Is this love?

Nick Hornby is one of my favorite writers of all time. Most of his stories are humorous takes on life, but never do they ever feel as if they’re getting too ahead of themselves, or bordering on “parody”. If anything, they feel like honest-to-God, understandable tales told from the perspectives of people who, quite frankly, are a lot like you or I. They’re not these extremely lovable, likable, or attractive people in these larger-than-life predicaments – most of the time, they’re just average people living life as well as they can.

It sounds so damn ordinary, but that’s actually the kind of beauty behind Hornby’s writing.

That’s why Brooklyn, another piece written by Hornby, feels like it couldn’t have been written by anybody else; it’s funny, poignant, relateable, and most of all, sweet. Hornby has, and probably always will, continue to keep on telling coming-of-agers till the day he can’t write anymore, which is fine with me; none of them ever show signs of slowing down, nor do they show a writer who has clearly lost track of time. Which is why it’s quite shocking to realize just how good Brooklyn is, and just how much it feels like a Nick Hornby movie.

For better, as well as, maybe, for worse, no character here is presented as a terrible specimen, nor are they treated as later-day saints. Mostly everybody in this flick are normal, everyday folk that you’d probably meet on the street, have a talk or two with, and leave, not quite remembering anything special about them, but at least remembering that a conversation did in fact take place. Once again, I know that all of this sounds incredibly mundane, but for some reason, in the hands of Hornby, it feels like so much more. And most of that, of course, has to do with the fact that we’ve got, yet again, another very strong protagonist from Hornby who, like all the rest, feels like a real person and not just a made-up type Hollywood execs like to think are real.

What’s perhaps the most interesting element about Eilis, as well as Saoirse Ronan’s performance, is how that, no matter how many twists, turns and absolute surprises her life takes, she always stays believable. Because this is a female character in the lead role, it would be easy to have the film be all about her just trying to choose between what mate she wants in her life, which one she doesn’t, and leaving it all at that. However, Hornby and director John Crowley are smarter people than that and know that Eilis doesn’t just need men in her life to make herself happy or survive; they’re certainly a nice acquirement, but they are, in no way, shape, or fashion, the reasons for living.

All Eilis needs, is her own smarts, independence, and most of all, need to want to make those in her life happy.

But the movie never tries to lionize her, or anybody else surrounding her. There’s quite a few characters, like Emory Cohen’s Tony, who feel like they could have easily been one-dimensional caricatures, but instead, go a bit deeper than that. As Tony, Cohen gets to blend both sides of this character’s persona; there’s the strong, meat-head Brando-type, while on the other side, there’s the sweeter, more romantic type that’s all about getting married and starting a family with whoever catches his heart first. Cohen’s great in this role and the chemistry he and Ronan share, despite the romance itself may coming on a bit too quick, still feels genuine enough that it gives us something to wish and hope for by the end.

Or, is this?

Or, is this?

And not to mention that, yes, Ronan’s great in this role. Ever since she’s grown-up a bit more, Ronan hasn’t quite had the best movies to work with; though she’s had plenty of roles to stretch herself and make us forget that she was that little girl from Atonement, the movies themselves have always, well, underwhelmed. However, as Eilis, Ronan gets the perfect opportunity to not only make us adore the hell out of her, but also view her as a full-on, smart-thinking, and understanding grown-up who has an idea of what she wants in life and is going about figuring that all out for the time being. Ronan’s got this bright beauty to her that makes it hard for the camera to turn away, and even harder for us to not pay attention to her.

Basically, I can’t wait to see what else is coming up for Ronan in the near-future.

But like I said about Brooklyn – it’s everything you expect from a movie penned by Nick Hornby. It’s not just, at times, laugh-out-loud hilarious, but also quite insightful about certain aspects of life like family, love, marriage, and perhaps, most importantly, finding yourself in one location. With recent events, it’s nice to see a flick that not only shows the type of inspirational promise that America, at one point, promised for the whole outside world, but in ways, still does to this very day. People who wanted to start anew, or find themselves, were able to, just by hopping on a boat, train, or plane, and come straight to America. In all honesty, that’s what this country was made from and it’s lovely to get a little reminder that, regardless of what one may read, there’s still plenty of promise within America.

Like love. Like work. And basically, just life itself.

Consensus: Funny, honest, and best of all, heartfelt, Brooklyn is a tremendous coming-of-ager that gives a glimpse into one young woman’s life, without ever trying too hard to get in the way of it and instead, just allow for her to tell her own story, the way it was meant to be told.

8.5 / 10


Aw, who cares! You just do your thing, Saoirse!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

Another YA adaptation down, plenty more to go.

After she was attacked by a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katnis Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is fed up and ready to take action against President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Meaning, that it’s time for war to get going and it’s going to be Katnis the one spearheading it. And once again, it becomes clear that a lot of what Katnis does or says, is all planned out from the beginning with Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) constantly working behind the scenes, testing and working with every maneuver Katnis takes. Regardless though, there is a war to be fought, which leads Katnis, as well as the rest of her trusted soldiers for the cause, to head straight to District 2 and then the Capitol itself for one last fight to take down Snow and his tyrannical reign. However, as expected, Snow is more than up to the task of taking on this band of soldiers, while also proving that he may be the more powerful force after all. But there’s also something else that’s a bit fishy about this situation and it has less to do with Snow, as much as it may have to do with those that Katnis aligns herself with in the first place.

Will miss him.

Will miss him.

Finally, after three years, four movies, and plenty of money, the Hunger Games film franchise is coming to an end. In ways, it’s kind of bittersweet; while none of the films have ever astounded me, they’ve been plenty better than all those other young adult novel adaptations that come out every few months or so. Granted, considering the company that’s kept in that genre, that may not be saying much, but still, it’s worth noting that each and everyone of these movies have all done some neat, interesting things with a plot and source material that could have easily been the most melodramatic, boring piece of crud since Bella and Edward started hookin’ up in the forest.

Still, what makes the Hunger Games, the franchise, so special, is that it’s the kind of YA adaptation that plenty of people can actually enjoy. Of course, the target audience for this will continue to devour and adore it until the day they die, but so many other people, who may not think that this is “their thing”, may find something to be interested by here. There’s the romance for all the screaming fan-girls in the crowd; there’s the violence for the boyfriends who get dragged to them; there’s the high-production values for the film-fanatics; and most importantly, there’s political messages and ideas for those who still believe that we’re being spied on by the government, at this very second.

They’re not wrong, but still.

And with Mockingjay – Part 2, it really does feel like, not just the end, but the greatest hits of what this story had to offer, but seemed to lose sight of over the past two movies. All of the elements that have made the past films work, are still here, but now, there’s so much more emotion, so much more power, and most of all, so much more feeling that has you realize, “Holy hell. This truly is the last time we may ever see these characters on the screen again.” It’s definitely the same feeling everyone had watching Deathly Hallows – Part 2, as well as most other finales, but here, it feels done just right.

There’s a greater deal of suspense and tension in the air, which definitely helps this movie out. Though I haven’t read any of the books (I actually tried and then I picked up a copy of the Corrections and the rest is, as they say, history), it’s pretty simple and easy to predict just who’s going to survive by the end of the movies, and who is going to bite the dust. Here, however, because this is the last movie, there’s a sense in the air that we don’t know who’s going to live, who’s going to die, and just who’s life is going to be completely ruined forever.

Even way after the credits end.

This is all some incredibly grim and bleak stuff that the movie’s dealing with, but it all surprisingly works with the rest of the tone. Everything before Katnis and her fellow soldiers get out onto the war-field, everything’s slow, meandering and plodding, to say the least; in fact, it had me worried that we were just getting left-over scenes from Part 1, which, in and of itself, was already a pretty lame movie, so why would I want to be reminded of it? But after all of the emotions are exchanged, the guns start coming out, explosions start happening, and characters, well-developed or not, believe it or not, start dropping like flies. There’s characters you may expect to perish, whereas there may be some you don’t – either way, it’s hard not to watch when these characters are all getting themselves into more and more dangerous situations as they parade along to find and kill Snow.

Will kind of, sort of, maybe miss him.

Will kind of, sort of, maybe miss him.

It’s all action-packed, of course, but it’s also incredibly compelling that makes you feel something for these characters probably more so than before. Katnis is, as usual, a bad-ass, but here, we really do get a chance to see her true personality, heart and soul shine; so much has been made in the past two movies where Katnis is, basically, just an image and nothing else. However, with her fourth-outing as Katnis, Jennifer Lawrence shows that she’s still able to find some new ways to breath fresh life into this character. Does she seem a bit bored? Yeah.

But I guess that’s what happens when you’re the highest-paid actress in Hollywood.

And everybody else is fine, too. The ensemble here is so stacked by now that, honestly, it feels like a shame they aren’t all given monologues to deliver and run rampant with, but so be it. In any other film, this cast would have absolutely made any movie a near-masterpiece, but because this is a Hunger Games movie, it’s less about them, and more about the spectacle.

Which, like I’ve said before, isn’t a bad thing. These movies, especially this one, have all done great jobs at balancing-out all the different aspects it takes to make this story interesting to watch and think about. The last-half of this movie definitely deals with that in a smart, but nearly shocking way that’s sure to surprise a whole lot of people who don’t know what to expect. But still, it works because the world that this movie has created, right from the very get-go, is one that may look all bright and shiny from the outside, but once you dig a bit deeper, is downright sadistic and disturbing. Such is the case with the real world, too, I guess.

But hey, we’ll miss you Katnis.

*Whistle-salute sound*

Consensus: Surprisingly grim, exciting and most of all, emotional, Mockingjay – Part 2 isn’t just the final installment of the franchise, but also the best one, proving just what sorts of wonders it was able to work, despite the target audience and what’s generally expected of stories such as these.

8 / 10

And, oh yeah. Will totes miss her.

And, oh yeah. Will totes miss her.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Safe (1995)

It’s like Bubble Boy. Without a bubble. Or a boy.

Carol White (Julianne Moore) lives a pretty carefree, unexciting life in California with her husband (Xander Berkeley) and stepson. The solid majority of her days consist of finding out which couches’ colors work best with living rooms and figuring out which diet to go on. So, yeah, basically, Carol has nothing to worry about. That all changes one day, however, when she starts to wheeze uncontrollably; though she goes to the doctor to get everything checked out, it turns out that there’s nothing really wrong with her. However, Carol isn’t fully convinced of this, so she looks into the matter herself, and the result she finds out is a bit unexpected, if random. For one, it seems that Carol is allergic to the 20th Century; meaning, there are certain chemicals, gases and irritants that get into her system, make her sick and have her lose control of her breathing. While everyone around Carol thinks that she’s losing her mind and/or is just looking for attention, she herself still knows that her condition is real and wants to find anything that can help her get better and possibly be cured. But where she goes to find these solutions, don’t always pan-out so well.

Pretty, curly hair does not distract.

Pretty, curly hair does not distract.

Todd Haynes doesn’t necessarily direct Safe, as much as he just guides it on along. There’s a very simple story here that, in Haynes’ own, no-frills way, doesn’t ever try to dig too deep into; instead, he just allows for it to be told as straight-forward as possible. However, by doing so, there’s something off about Safe that makes it a movie worth thinking a whole lot about; while it would be easy to classify it as a boring, incredibly slow disease-of-the-week flick, there’s so much more going on in between the folds and lines that make it seem like so much more.

In a way, you could classify Safe as “a thriller”, but at the same time, you couldn’t – while the movie definitely has all of the tension and unpredictability of a thriller, Haynes isn’t really depending on that to tell his story. Sure, the synth-inspired score is eerie to a fault, but despite it, the rest of the movie seems to just be focusing on what happens to Carol next – whether or not it excites you, is generally just up to you and what gets you going. For me, watching this story unfold, before my very own eyes, and to know that Haynes wasn’t trying to be at all pretentious with his style, kept me wide awake and watching.

Granted, I had no clue where the story was going, but that wasn’t the point.

The point of Safe, from what I can gather, is to depict the alienation one woman can feel when she is on the brink of extreme madness and everyone around her knows it. While Carol is, initially, a pretty dull character who doesn’t really have much of a personality, through this disease that she “catches”, we begin to see her develop more and more. We witness and understand the sadness, as well as the shock that she goes through her when she starts to realize that, due to all of these excessive bouts of sickness, she’s starting to lose those around her that she considers loved-ones and friends. What’s perhaps most interesting about Haynes’ direction here, is that he not only doesn’t give us much about Carol, but also doesn’t give us anymore to know about these fellow characters surrounding her, either – they are, in retrospect, just as much of a mystery to us, as they may be to Carol.

And as Carol, it’s definitely worth stating that, as expected, Julianne Moore is great, but it’s a relatively different role for her. For one, it’s not very showy; rather than getting a plethora of scenes dedicated to where she just constantly yells, rants and raves about her disease and the issues she’s having with it, Carol is much more subdued and written-down, which probably works best for her, in all honesty. It’s best that Carol, the character, doesn’t need to spell everything out for us to get the clear picture that yes, she’s feeling terrible and most of all, not doing so well in life.

But because Moore is such a good actress, she channels all of these emotions of sadness and despair in such a way that, despite us not really knowing much about Carol apart from her disease she’s been struck with, it’s hard not to feel a little heartbroken because of it. Moore lost a bunch of weight for this role and because of that, you get the sense that Carol could literally pass-out or fly away at any second; she’s clearly not in the right head-space to enjoy anything about life, so why would she actually continue to keep up with her original diet? But gimmicks aside and all, Moore is superb here and it’s no surprise why she decided to work with Haynes again on Far From Heaven and I’m Not There, as the two seem to bring out the best within one another.

While I’m on the subject of Carol, though, I do think that now is the best opportunity to discuss a problem I found with Safe that kept me away from actually loving it a whole lot more than I should have, and it was its discussion of the disease itself.

How I feel whenever I come home and literally have nothing to do.

How I feel whenever I come home and literally have nothing to do. Except Netflix, of course.

You know, the one where you’re literally allergic to everything surrounding you.

Believe it or not, it’s actually a real disease, which is why it’s so interesting to see someone, let alone, a person like Carol, go through it all and come to grips with all of the side effects of the said disease. What’s perhaps most interesting about is the discussion that Haynes seems to bring up with the disease: Is Carol really sick? Or, is she just another lonely housewife looking for attention? And also, even if the disease is real, does it take physical-form that carries on from one body to another? Or, does it all exist in somebody’s head and the only way for a person to get rid of the disease is to make themselves feel better and more sane?

I’m honestly still battling with myself just what party Haynes sticks with and it’s actually a bit disappointing. In the later-half of the movie, Haynes dives in deep into the idea of therapy as rehabilitation and it’s not only interesting, but also quite smart. However, he seems to just leave it there for us, the audience, to pick up on and it feels like a bit of a cheat. It’s almost as if Haynes himself seemed like he had something to say about this disease, but knew that he’d piss some people off by doing so, so instead, just allowed for it all to play-out as normal as humanly possible. Once again, have no problem with this, but I would have definitely liked to seen more about the disease and what it actually is.

Especially considering that, you know, when’s the next time someone’s going to make a movie about a person with MCS.

Consensus: Anchored by an amazing performance, but never over-done performance from Julianne Moore, Safe feels like the kind of real-life thriller that’s intriguing to watch and dissect, even if there are certain style-contrivances holding it back from reaching that pure level of excellence.

8 / 10

Yep. Still not getting any better. Sorry, hon.

Yep. Still not getting any better. Sorry, hon.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Boy A (2007)

Boyposter“Let the past, be the past”, is something nobody actually does.

After spending many years in the slammer for a crime he and his lad committed when they were boys, Jack (Andrew Garfield) is finally now out and ready for the real world. That’s why he decides to take up this new name, identity, and start somewhere he hasn’t before. This leaves him to take up a job as a deliveryman, where he not only makes friends, but also possible love-mates. While his social skills are definitely not as up-to-par as they should be, Jack still gets by on trying to fit in, regardless of the social situation. When he’s out at clubs, he drinks a lot and does crazy drugs, when he’s with his girlfriend (Katie Lyons), he’s awkward, but also kind of horny, too. But as much as Jack wants to leave everything he did in the past, exactly there, it still finds its way of coming back to bite him in the rear-end and ruin the great life that he’s been having thus far. This is something that Jack isn’t just afraid may actually happen, but also has him terrified of what he may actually do, once the information of his past becomes known to his newly-made friends.

Does he even age?

Does he even age?

Boy A is the kind of movie that, despite its small scale, still works with the big emotions that can either make, or totally break, dramas such as these. However, what works so well for Boy A, is that it takes its relatively familiar-premise and gives it some fresh new life by just having us interested in this guy’s life, right from the very start. Director John Crowley and screenwriter Mark O’Rowe both do a brilliant job of giving us just enough information of this Jack guy, to get a clear picture of him; while we know that he did something heinous and nearly unforgivable when he was younger, we’re never outright told right away. Instead, we’re left to watch him as he tries to live his life and, in the meantime, experience everything grand that life has to offer, for the first time.

And this is all interesting because Jack himself, is an compelling fellow that’s never too easy to pin-down; we get the sense that he’s a genuinely nice kid, but due to his checkered-past, as well as his incarceration and need for it to stay under-wraps, there’s still an odd feeling about him. We see Jack live life, have fun, make friends, and be as happy as one can be when life is as simple as this, but by the same token, we also see him struggle with trying to make amends for what he did when he was younger, as well as trying to make sure that fact never, ever gets out. Of course, there’s a great deal of mystery surrounding what Jack does – there are countless flashbacks to his childhood – but they never feel unnecessary and just a way to take up more time.

In fact, they tell us more about Jack himself.

But really, what element makes Jack work the most is Andrew Garfield who, in a very early role of his, shows us the type of promise he showed before he got stuck playing Spidey. As Jack, Garfield plays these two sides quite well; he’s sweet and earnest as all hell, but he’s also quite scary to watch whenever it seems like he seems like he may be losing his cool. Through it all though, we feel for Jack and want him to actually be happy. Sure, his crime is almost unforgivable, but that’s why this performance, as well as the movie is so well-done.

There’s actually a case to be made here for getting past what someone did many, many years ago. As Jack, Garfield shows that while those scars may never ever heal, they’ll still be covered-up just enough so that one can move on with their life and remember the better things that make people happy to be alive. That’s why, although it is funny to watch as Jack does such things as initiate sex with his girlfriend, as well as get totally wasted at a club, it’s also quite endearing as well. He’s like a little kid, seeing the bright and beautiful things the world can offer.

Which is why when the harsh realities of the world come crashing down on him, it’s heartbreakingly tragic.

"Don't play Peter Parker, son. The first movie will be alright, but after that, just nope."

“Don’t play Peter Parker, son. The first movie will be alright, but after that, just nope.”

While I won’t get into too much of what occurs during the final-act, I’ll just say that the movie becomes very dark, serious and upsetting, which sometimes, and other times, doesn’t. For one, Boy A gets awfully melodramatic, which isn’t something I thought it could get. While the first two-halves of this are, for the most part, like a thoughtful, but precise character-study, the last half is, as much as it pains me to say, almost like a soap opera. Not to mention that, sadly, it ends on a cliff-hanger that feels completely random and a bit of a cheat. This is why, despite all the greatness within Boy A, it’s hard for me to run to the highest mountain, praising my love and adoration for it.

But still though, I always come back to the performance. Not just Garfield’s, though, as Peter Mullan, who plays Jack’s mentor, as well as his sort-of parole officer, is especially great to watch. There’s a certain degree of heart and pleasantness to this character that, honestly, Mullan doesn’t always get to play with. Don’t get me wrong, nobody does slime quite like Mullan, but it’s also neat to see him play somebody that not only has a conscience, but a very nice one, at that.

Like I said before, though, it’s Garfield’s show the whole way through. That’s why, with 99 Homes already out and about, and with upcoming Martin Scorsese’s Silence, it’s exciting to see Garfield back to his more dramatic-roots, giving us more and more showings of just what kind of talent he actually is. While it’s always been there throughout his whole career, he’s finally going back to it, But if people ever feel like they want to know what the hell I’m going on about, just watch Boy A.

You’ll be surprised, as well as happy.

Consensus: Boy A may have a bit of an odd ending, but features an amazing performance from Andrew Garfield, as well as an interesting look at the life of someone we may not always understand, but see live his life. Heartbreak, happiness and all.

8 / 10

Childhood: Where it all begins.

Childhood: Where it all begins.

Photos Courtesy of: Vagabond’s Movie Screenshots, Indiewire, Masculinity Movies

Road to Perdition (2002)

perditionposterAlways trust daddy. Especially if that daddy just so happens to be Tom Hanks.

Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) lives a comfortable, easy-going life with his family in a little house in the countryside of Rock Island, IL. Sullivan works for John Rooney (Paul Newman), an old school mobster who found him at a young age and practically raised him, as if he were one of his own. And what Sullivan does for Rooney, is such a mystery to his sons that one night, his oldest, Mike Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), decides to sneak into his daddy’s car late one night and see what it is that he does. What Mike finds out is that his dad’s a hired-assassin and kills people! But, as if that wasn’t bad as is, Rooney’s actual, biological son, Connor (Daniel Craig), finds this out and decides to take matters into his own hand. This means that there’s a hit out on Sullivan and the rest of his family, which leads Sullivan to hit the road with Mike and set out on the run, hopefully trying to stay safe and find out how this sort of situation can be mended. But just to ensure that this never happens, Connor hires a weird-looking hitman (Jude Law), who has a certain penchant for taking pictures of the dead, just as they’re nearing the light.

Tom Hanks with scruff is scary Tom Hanks.

Tom Hanks with scruff is scary Tom Hanks.

Coming off something as magnificent and ground-breaking as American Beauty, the odds were clearly stacked-up against director Sam Mendes to make another great, awards-caliber movie. Which is why Road to Perdition‘s a bit of an interesting choice for him to decide to follow-up with; not only is it a gangster-thriller of sorts, but it’s also one that’s based on a graphic novel of the same name. Surely, this is not something anybody expected Mendes to try, but thankfully, it all worked out for the best. Even if, you know, the movie in and of itself may not be the perfect Oscar pic that people would have liked.

But does that matter? No!

Not every movie ever made has to be perfect or absolutely shoot to get every single award known to man. While producers and studios may want that (because with more awards-buzz, comes more cash money), the films themselves don’t necessarily have to be catering towards that specific kind of audience who likes when their movies are classier and more prestige. Though there’s nothing wrong with a movie trying to be more than just your everyday fodder, as long as it’s interesting and somewhat stimulating, then it doesn’t matter what it gets nominated, what it doesn’t get nominated for, or what it wins, and what it doesn’t win.

All of the rest is just a bunch of unnecessary junk and that’s why Road to Perdition probably works best. It doesn’t set-out to achieve greatness, but it just goes out there and tries to tell a fine story that may, or may not, impact your life till the day you die. You may even forget that you see it a few months after the fact, but still, it isn’t trying to win each and every person over (much like every Oscar movie tends to do).

But anyway, I digress.

So yeah, Sam Mendes definitely had a lot working against him here, but the man, being the talented director that he is, did a splendid job here. Mendes is clearly more interested in the characters and the relationships they share with one another, which is why when the guns do start going off, the bullets start flying, and the bodies start dropping, it’s a lot more effective. This isn’t to say that Mendes doesn’t at all care about the violence to begin with, because honestly, many of these scenes can be as bloody and as disturbing as you’d expect them to be, but it isn’t his main focus and it’s probably why the movie works a lot better than most gangster movies.

Not to mention, too, it’s actually a rather sweet and tender tale about the relationships between fathers and sons, how complicated they can be, and most importantly, how important they are in helping to develop someone as they are growing up and trying to make sense of the world around them. That Mike Jr. is so young and is already thrown into this crazy, incredibly messed-up world of guns, violence, drugs, money, death and gangsters, is already enough for us to sympathize with him and hope everything goes smoothly from here on out – but also, the fact that the kid isn’t precocious, also helps. It’d be one thing if we had a smarty-pants kid acting as if he knew everything that the world had to offer him, but it’s a whole other one completely when the kid is actually a kid, who knows little to nothing, and can’t make sense of a single thing happening to, or around him.

Oh no, Tommy! Look out! A gun!

A Tom holding a tommy-gun. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere.

It’s quite sad, really, but the movie focuses on how his father is there for him to help him through.

Which also causes a bit of a problem for Road to Perdition – while on the one hand, it’s this sensitive, emotional drama between a father and a son, on the other, it’s also this dark, violent and sometimes sinister tale about gangsters each other over and the great lengths some of them will go to to protect their pride, fortune, and reputation. Both movies, in their own rights, are fine, but together, they do have the film feeling a bit languid and off-center at times. Not to say that I wasn’t always interested in where it was going to go next, but it also isn’t to say that I didn’t want to see one movie over the other.

This became especially true whenever Jude Law’s hitman character came into the foray. Law is great here and seems to really be enjoying himself with this dastardly, snidely character, but because he’s so campy and over-the-top, he feels out-of-place from the rest of the overly serious, melodramatic flick he’s supposed to be apart of. There’s almost this feeling that he comes straight out of the graphic novel and onto the screen, and the transition isn’t all that pretty, no matter how hard Law and Mendes try to cover it all up. Still, it’s another good performance from Law that, once again, shows he’s more than just a pretty face and hot body.

Which probably isn’t something people had problems with the likes of Tom Hanks or Paul Newman, because not only are they good-looking guys, but hell, they’re fine actors, too.

That’s why when we do get a chance to see them share the screen together, it’s actually quite exciting. Here’s two legends of the silver screen, finally, after all this time, pairing-up together and getting to work with one another, and while the movie doesn’t feature them together a whole lot, the scenes that they do have, still work well enough that they make it last. Respectively, both are solid; Newman’s an endearing father-figure with a bit too much love for his son, and Hanks, playing against type, is actually quite menacing as the charmless hitman who won’t hesitate to shoot or kill someone, but also doesn’t want to do it out of cold blood either.

They’re both excellent here and help Road to Perdition become a great movie, even if, you know, the Oscar-voters didn’t go as nuts as everybody would have liked.

Because, quite frankly, who gives a hoot about them anyway?

Consensus: With a solid cast and directing job from Sam Mendes, Road to Perdition is a fine gangster film, that also works as an endearing tribute to the relationship that a father and son duo have with one another.

8 / 10

I'd have a drink or two with these fellas.

I’d have a drink or two with these fellas.

Photos Courtesy of: Collider, Indiewire

Thirteen (2003)

Just when sending your daughter to the convent seemed like cruel punishment.

Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is about to begin her first year in junior high and in order to do it right, she’s got to get rid of her past life. That means no more studying, no more nerdy friends, no more playing with Barbies, and sure as hell no more being lame! And in order to be seen as “cool”, or “hip”, or whatever the kids are calling it nowadays, Tracy latches right onto the most popular girl in school, Evie (Nikki Reed). This also means, that to ensure that she stays cool, Tracy will have to do all sorts of scandalous stuff that the old Tracy would never even dream of doing. Meaning, there’s a lot of sex, drugs, booze, and stealing, all of which, Evie and Tracy seem to absolutely love doing together. However, the one person who isn’t quite the biggest fan of what Tracy’s up to, or Evie either, is Tracy’s mom, Melanie (Holly Hunter). Although Melanie and Tracy did, at one time, have a very strong relationship, she sees that dangerously slipping away now and will do anything to get that love back. That is, before it’s too late and she’s lost Tracy to the deep, dark world of rebellious 13-year-old girls!

Don't do that.

Don’t do that.

Thirteen is, and also isn’t, is an after school special. If you’re going to place it in a specific sort of subgenre to make it appeal more towards a target audience, then yeah, Thirteen can definitely be considered an after school special. Kids are acting up in all sorts of mischievous ways here and ultimately, get lessons learned, and it all feels like something you’d see tuning into either on Lifetime, or TLC.

The difference between Thirteen and those other movies is that, well, it doesn’t hold back.

Thirteen is the kind of coming-of-ager that Larry Clarke would soon one day love to make, but can’t help himself to actually create because he’s too concerned with pubic-hair and unsimulated sex scenes; there’s so many scenes where barely legal (or, not at all) kids are participating in sexual activities, drug-use, cutting, hitting, and drinking, that it’s more than enough to make you want to turn away. And sure, while we know that everything these kids are doing are, in fact, fake and put-on for the camera, co-writer and director Catherine Hardwicke shoots it in such a realistic manner, that it can sometimes feel like a documentary. Which definitely works in the movie’s favor because it helps make it seem like this is a tale that any person can, has, or will, experience.

Being thirteen and going through all the sorts of problems that 13-year-old goes through, isn’t just limited to one gender, race, or belief; everybody goes through teenage angst at least once during their life. Sure, some bouts with angst are a lot more serious and vicious than others, but still, the fact remains, most people, when growing up, usually tend to face a lot of problems and commit acts that they won’t be looking back on in ten or so years, with any sorts of smiles whatsoever. But, in a way, that’s fine, because that’s just how life goes sometimes. What matters most, though, is how you bounce back from all that that makes you, well, who you are.

That’s why Thirteen doesn’t ever, not for a single second, ever judge its characters for what they’re doing, even though it would have definitely been easy to do.

That Tracy falls hook, line and sinker for Evie as soon as she sees her make fun of her, and wants to start talking, dressing and acting like her, only makes sense because when we’re young, that’s all most of us want to do. While we may not want to be the most popular kids in school, we still want to have that feeling of being accepted, or part of some clique that we can hang around with when life can get us down. That’s why when Tracy starts doing all of the things that Evie’s doing and without ever hardly putting up a fight for what she believes to be right, either, it’s hard to be really mad at her. She may be a bit of an a-hole to the rest of her family, but when were any of us ever nice to those who loved and cared for us at that age, huh?

Hardwicke is smart though in giving us every single little gritty detail about Tracy’s transformation, without ever trying to turn its head. There’s plenty of moments that she could have definitely done so and we wouldn’t have at all blamed her (like the cutting scenes, for instance), but she doesn’t, and that, above everything else, she deserves credit for. Not to mention that Nikki Reed, who also wrote the screenplay with her, deserves even more credit for not just turning in a great performance as Evie, but for also making a great script that feels smart and nonjudgmental – something that may have not been easy to do as a 15 or 16-year-old girl, which she was at the time.

But really, it’s the two performances from Evan Rachel Wood and Holly Hunter that I continue to come back to.

Or that.

Or that.

In the case of the former’s, Wood’s great here because she feels like a real teen, actually diving as deep as a girl like her would dive into being accepted. There’s never a moment where she seems like she’s over-acting, or demanding all eyes to be on her; and even if she does, it’s intentional, because that’s probably what her character wants people to do at that same very moment. It’s no surprise that Wood’s a great actress, but after seeing her work here, it makes me wish that she’d be making more wonders in adult-hood. She’s clearly got the talent, all she needs is another juicy role to make people remember what she’s been able to do since she was, hell, 13.

As for the later, there’s no denying that Holly Hunter is a class-act in whatever she does, but here, she’s especially so. With Hunter’s Melanie, we get the real heart and soul of the movie; while a solid majority of the movie is centered around useless acts of sex, drugs, and small-time crime, the heartbeat at the center that keeps it pulsing, is actually Hunter’s Melanie, who never turns her daughter away or down for whatever it is that she demands. While she may give her too much freedom at times, she’s only doing it because she genuinely wants her daughter to be happy, no matter what. She’s the kind of mom that every person probably wishes they had (minus the ex-drug use, of course), which makes it all the more painful to watch it when, time after time, Melanie reaches out to Tracy and, time and time again, she continues to get denied and have everything shoved back into her face.

But that’s just what growing up is all about. Be prepared.

Consensus: Despite it seeming like something you’d see after school, Thirteen is a more believable and honest coming-of-ager that doesn’t pull any punches, but is better off for that, too.

8 / 10

But yeah, do that. Hug mom till you can't hug her no more.

But yeah, do that. Hug mom till you can’t hug her no more.

Photos Courtesy of: Tumblr

The Gift (2015)

High school is life.

Married couple, Simon and Robyn Callum (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall), have been encountering some problems as of late with their marriage, so they decide to move back to where Simon grew up. One day, during shopping, a person by the name of Gordon Mosley (Joel Edgerton) comes up to Simon, to see if he remembers him from high school. Long story short, Simon kind of does, but kind of doesn’t, either. Plenty of time has passed, but to be a nice guy, Simon decides to invite “Gordo” over a fine dinner one night. It isn’t until long that both Robyn and Simon start to see that there’s something odd and off-putting about Gordo; he constantly leaves them gifts and comes over unexpectedly, asking for Simon, but stays longer than he probably should. Eventually, Simon gets tired of this and lets Gordo have it, which is when they think everything’s over with. However, Robyn’s fish are killed, her dog goes missing, and randomly, she starts having panic-attacks, which leads Simon to think that it’s all Gordo causing this and nobody else. But the main question remains: Why would Gordo go all this way to push himself into some dude from high school’s life, some twenty-odd years later?



Despite there being plenty more out there to see, I tend to believe sometimes that I’ve seen plenty of movies. Some were better than others, of course, but that’s not the point of my rambling – the point is that I think, after all the movies I’ve seen, I’ve come to know a lot about what to expect with certain movies. Therefore, when a story starts to lean down a certain direction, my brain automatically turns to the most conventional solution because, well, I’ve seen it all before. In all honesty, I wish I didn’t always think like this with movies, because it actually sucks a lot of the fun out, but so be it. I’m a miserable sack and I blame it all on movies.

But I digress.

The same directions that I’ve just alluded to, are the same ones I saw appear on countless occasions during the Gift. However, what’s different from this movie, as opposed to so many other ones out there that I’ve had the displeasure of seeing, is that it goes down a different way that I didn’t least expect it to. For instance, when Gordo starts showing up unexpectedly, inserting himself into this little couple’s life together, and making it known that he wants to be their friends, my brain was already saying, “Oh great. Here we go. He’s going to creep this family out so much that, eventually, they’re going to have to let him know straight-up, that their relationship is over. Then, Gordo’s going to get all crazy, start harassing the family, creeping them out plenty more, until, there’s a final battle between both sides that’s bloody and senseless.”And heck, once the dog ended up missing and the fish were killed, my mind had already turned off and let me knew that, yup, the Gift was going to be nothing different from any of the other “creepy neighbor thrillers” out there.

Once again, though, I was pleasantly surprised to see that, time and time again, writer/director Joel Edgerton turned down a different street and instead, opted for more fresh ways to tell this pretty familiar story. Take, for example, the characters Edgerton has created here – nobody here, even though the movie may sometimes lean a certain way, is considered to be a “good guy” or a
“bad” one. Mostly, everyone is just a person who may have better morals/social skills/earnings/personal issues/etc. than others and that’s all there is to them. This not only helps the movie feel like it’s more than just a thriller, but a character-study, as well heighten the tension in the air because, quite frankly, we start to care for these characters.

We care for them, not just because the movie wants us to, because after a bit of time, we get to know each and everyone of them. But it’s never over-done; we get certain, little inklings about a person’s life to where we’re able to conjure up exact ideas of how these people may be. And even though, it’s never fully clear who these people are. Maybe that was the cynical point Edgerton was trying to get across, but either way, it’s still an interesting thought to have in a movie that, honestly, could have been all about this couple getting terrorized and the creepy guy, continuing to be creepy.

Edgerton is a smarter talent than that and it goes without saying that, this being his debut and all, I’m quite impressed.

Not because Edgerton finds himself more off-screen, than in front of it, despite this being his movie and all, but because he seems to understand what it takes for a movie to be both smart, but also fun-in-a-silly-kind of way. This is especially evident in the final act when it becomes clear that this is less of a story about a creepy people being creepy, and more about how bullies continue to be bullies, no matter how old or experienced they get. Though the movie itself is smart and complex, the message it sends across, isn’t; however, it’s handled in a way that makes it seem like Edgerton was actually trying to say something here, as simple as it may have been.



But still, the characters here are strong enough that it doesn’t matter if Edgerton trips up on making sense of this movie. As Simon and Robyn, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are, respectively, very good here and help create their own characters well enough to where we see them as separate human beings, and not just a couple. To me, this was probably the most important aspect to making these characters work; while it’s easy to say that they’re in love, hence the fact they’re married, it’s what they do when the other’s not around that makes them into their own person and allows us to see them for all that they are.

For instance, whenever Simon’s not around, Robyn casually goes on a job around her neighborhood, re-organize the house, work on her computer, and do whatever else she feels like doing when she’s home all alone. Though these may seem unimportant when watching them, after awhile, the film uses this as a way to develop her character and make it known that, you know, she’s just a simple, sweet and easy-going gal; she may have had past problems with drugs, as we get more than enough hints at throughout, but overall, she’s a lovely gal. In fact, she’s probably so lovely, that it becomes almost baffling as to why she decides to stick with someone like Simon who, being played by Jason Bateman should already tell you, is a bit of a dick.

In fact, he’s a huge dick.

While this may seem like the same kind of role we’ve seen Bateman do a million times before, there’s something darker and meaner about this character that makes it feel slightly “different”. Instead of all is snarky comments being played for laughs, they’re now played for serious breaks of silence, where he makes a room a whole lot more tense for just saying what he feels and thinks. Bateman’s great here and it shows that, when given a solid script, the dude really can deliver. Same goes for Hall who, by now, we understand to be a pretty great actress. She not only handles the American-accent well, but also allows us to see that there may be a bit of a darker side to this character too, even if it doesn’t always show.

But perhaps, the best character of the bunch is, no surprise, the one being portrayed by the same dude who created this movie to begin with.

Though it’s made clear to us early on that Edgerton’s Gordo may be a bit of a weirdo who is best left in his own, little world of weirdness, rather than jumping in other people’s, there’s still something about him that makes him a character worth watching. While he may be socially awkward and odd at his worst, he is, in no way, a person who seems capable of murder, or any of the heinous acts he’s accused of throughout the flick. And once it becomes clear that he’s not really a bad person, we start to feel bad for him a whole lot more and wish that, not only would someone give him a hug, but also take him out, buy him a beer, and develop a long-standing relationship with him.

Still though, the dude’s still a mystery to us by the end and it’s what makes the Gift perhaps more thought-provoking than most thrillers of this nature that I’ve seen in quite some time.

Consensus: Working as both a character-study, as well as a psychological thriller, the Gift is a smart, complex and tense tale echoing in a new writing/directing talent in the form of Joel Edgerton.

8 / 10

Strange guy.

Strange guy.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Hunting Ground (2015)

Stay in school, kids. Or at home is fine, too.

Going to college, for most people, is an exciting time. It’s a place that they’ve been studying hard for practically the past five or six years and now that it’s finally here, they can’t wait but to just soak it all up. From the classes, to the teachers, to the fellow students, and especially to the party-scene, college is a magical place where everyone can find themselves and be inspired to do what it is that they want to do for the rest of their lives. However, it’s also a place that, especially for women, can be a very traumatic, disturbing time as well. It is estimated that nearly 20% of college females will be raped in their college years and through countless other stats, interviews with real life subjects who have been sexually assaulted, and several department-heads of colleges, we start to get a bigger picture of what’s really going on. Because, it isn’t just the rape that’s the only problem at hand here, it’s also the institutions themselves who, for their own self-interest, whether it be for donations, for sports, or for public reputation, throw these rape cases away, hoping that they’ll just eventually dissipate into thin air, as if they never happened in the first place. Problem is, they did happen and it’s about time that somebody did something about it.

Seen this one too many times.

Seen this one too many times.

A few years ago, with the Invisible War, Kirby Dick showed what it was like to be apart of something as distinguished and respectable as the United States Military, and to have been a victim of sexual assault. That movie, even till this day infuriates the hell out of me; not just because people are being raped to begin with (which is a huge problem that needs to stop, ASAP), but because of how every rape case is handled. Rather than actually setting out and stopping the perpetrators from possibly committing the same act again, the Army would much rather settle everything out of court, blame the issue on the victim, act as if it never happened, was just a common mistake, and move on.

And to be truly honest, college itself is no different from the Army in that general regard.

While the Hunting Ground may not be as powerful as the Invisible War was, there’s still something that hits very close to home that makes it all the more sad, disturbing, and most of all, enraging. That nobody involved with these colleges is doing anything to stop these rapes from happening by either, punishing the perpetrator in an effective manner, or making it so that these crimes continue to be reported, will make you heart pound and blood boil. Dick understands this, sees this and never steps away from this fact; that these rapes can be stopped by a simple procedure of kicking that student out and making their presences known, is what’s all the more upsetting.

But through it all, Dick never forgets that this movie is, first and foremost, about the subjects here who, sadly and unfortunately, been through a sexual abuse at the hands of people who are, quite frankly, sick and twisted imbeciles. No matter how dark or disturbing the stories may be, Dick realizes that it’s the courage of these subjects who make this movie work and matter most; without them, he would have just a bunch of stats that don’t really prove any point, but crunch numbers in an annoying, slightly vague manner. Dick knows that in order to get his point across in an effective way, he needs to have as many stories as humanly possible, just to get his point further across about how rape, in and of the act itself, is an epidemic that needs to be stopped.

What’s most disappointing about this fact is that it can be easily done.

There's a possible generous alumni that you've missed out on, colleges. Good job!

There’s a possible generous alumni that you’ve missed out on, colleges. Good job!

All it takes is for a teacher, or a disciplinarian, or someone higher-up in the college, to speak up, say something and demand that a just punishment be made. However, as the movie shows us, it’s not so easy for every person involved with the university to just do such a thing, and not expect to reprimanded right away. For one, some of these figures may lose their jobs, as well as their tenure. This, altogether with the fact that the institution wants to keep that pretty picture alive and well for the rest of the outside world to see, is genuinely upsetting, but it’s sadly the reality in which we live in. Rape occurs, and rather than punishing those who initiate it, they all go after the victim and put all of the blame on them.

Once again, this is just one of the many points that Dick brings to light in the Hunting Ground. While it may not be his most powerful, or effective work he’s ever done, it doesn’t matter, because the movie still gets its point across and asks for there to be justice for those who need it the most: the Victims. That nobody is looking out for them, or has their best interest in mind, really makes the world of college as a whole, especially screwy. Colleges will never go extinct, but if they do continue to act up and not change their ways, they may be in fear of losing many possible students. Some parents will not want to send their kids away to a school that allows such heinous, vile acts like rape, and they especially won’t send their kids away to a school where instead of being embraced for bringing it up to the people who matter, the victims are wrongfully persecuted, left to be made an example of, and, in most cases, told to leave the school because of the hostile situation they’ve created.

This is all malarkey and you know what? It’s about time that it was put to an end, immediately.

Consensus: While not his best, Kirby Dick’s the Hunting Ground is still a powerful, generally upsetting documentary that points fingers at the problem of rapes on campuses, shows that there’s justice to be done, and asks why it hasn’t yet, to the people who most deserve to hear those same questions.

8.5 / 10

Pictured: Hell

Pictured: Hell

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Wait a minute. This isn’t the new season of House of Cards!

In an unnamed West African country, a young boy named Agu (Abraham Attah) lives with his mother, father, older brother, younger sister, and not-all-that-there grandfather, who have all had their lives taken over by all sorts of war and havoc. But because they’re passionate about where they live and the name of God, they stick to where they’re at and won’t let any outside forces, whether they be the the junta, rebels, or government forces, ruin their times. Problem is, that’s exactly what happens and poor Agu is the one who has to witness it all. Not only does his mother and sister set-out for an undisclosed location where they’ll hopefully be safe, but Agu’s father, grandfather, and brother are all shot and killed in cold blood, leaving Agu to have to run for the hills, all on his own, where it seems like every other person that he encounters either wants to kill him, or take him in as a prisoner. One person in particular goes by the name of Commandant (Idris Elba), a ferocious, clearly intimidating force to be reckoned with. But he’s also one that takes a liking to Agu and promises to take care of him, so long so as Agu joins up as one of his child soldiers where they’ll ravage any villages that they stumble upon, leading to plenty of violent tasks Agu has to complete just so that he doesn’t lose his own life and become like the rest of his family.

Don't look into those eyes, kid.

Don’t look into those eyes, kid.

Besides the fact it’s being released on Netflix, the same day that it’s being released in theaters, Beasts of No Nation is still a movie worth seeing, discussing and remembering for awhile to come. Sure, some of the latter portion may have to do with the fact that there are countless grotesque and disturbing scenes of people getting shot, killed, raped, split-open, sliced, and diced, all while involving pre-pubescent children, but still. It’s been a long, windy and sometimes dangerous road for Cary Joji Fukunaga’s flick and honestly, I’m just happy to finally be seeing it.

Not to mention that the movie itself, is actually pretty great, if not incredibly hard-to-watch at certain times. Then again, that’s to be expected, given the source material and subject at-hand (child-soldier tales were never known for their light, comedic-touches). But while that may break most movies, Fukunaga is smart enough to realize that in order to make all of these immoral acts of violence seem pertinent, that they can’t be excessive; instead, they have to put you into the story much more. Because Agu is literally thrown into this world where war provides almost no rules that the actual, real world would provide, it makes sense that almost every situation he’s involved with, ends up with somebody getting their heads blown-off, or split by a machete.

It sounds graphic, and that’s because it is.

And this is to say that, yes, a lot of Beasts of No Nation is hard to sit through, but because it feels as if we’re getting a no-bullshit, actual account of what happened (or, at least, still happens to this day), it never seems excessive or gratuitous. Like he did with the first season of True Detective (that’s to say, the way, way better one), Fukunaga portrayed these acts of senseless violence in such a detached manner, that they’re more disturbing to watch, then they are appetizing. It’s like the opposite of any Eli Roth movie; the blood spatters, but instead of getting up and shouting, “F**k yeah!”, you’re more inclined to gasp, hide your eyes and hope that you don’t see anything like that in the movie again.

Problem is, you most likely will. And in some cases, it’ll be a whole lot worse.

But like I said, Fukunaga is a smart director and story-teller, and shows that all of these acts of violence are meant to shock, but to also put you more into the mind-set of Agu and why someone as seemingly innocent, sweet and child-like as he is at the start of the film, would turn into this mean, evil, and nasty killer by the end of it. For one, the movie doesn’t ever represent any side as “good”, “bad”, or “moderate”; Agu’s family is actually killed by who are presented to be “one of the better groups”, so already, the movie makes it clear that it’s taking no sides. And nor should it – Agu himself would clearly have no idea who to trust, or who to steer clear of. Hence why, when the first hand that reaches out to him eventually comes in the form of a huge, bulking man known as Commandant, Agu can’t help but fall for the love and care, hook, line and sinker.

And it definitely deserves to noted that Idris Elba is spectacular Commandant. While we know he’s not a good person and kills people because he can, there’s something still so charming about him that makes Commandant a compelling-figure. A good portion of this has to go with the fact that he isn’t written to be a mustache-twirling villain and into more of a human that was born into this kind of society, but most of it has to go to Elba’s unabashed charisma, who is sometimes able to blend menace and intellect all into one person. While he’s not the star of this movie, Elba is still the most important figure and whenever he does show up, you know that he’s going to completely own every scene and remind you why he’s the one who should be the next Bond.

An evil, thoughtless killer? No! Not this little guy!

An evil, thoughtless killer? No! Not this little guy!

Just saying.

But no slouch either, is non-professional actor Abraham Attah as Agu. Because Agu is, essentially, our eyes and ears to this new world, Attah sometimes feels like he’s being placed into certain scenes just to show significance, but he’s still great because of how believable he is with the transition this character goes through, that it’s almost terrifying. Agu, originally, seems to be a innocent, playful kid like you or I once were, but when push comes to shove, travesty occurs, and he’s left without a hand to feed him or comfort him, he grows up real quick and starts killing as much people as he sees fit (or is at least ordered to). The transition he goes through isn’t a clear one as there’s always a sense of morality hidden underneath this kid’s facade that makes you think he may not be all that swamped-up by Commandant’s evil, but still, it’s quite frightening to watch play-out, especially because Attah is so good.

If there is a complaint to be had with Beasts of No Nation that keeps it away from being an unabashed masterpiece, is that it sometimes feels as if it’s too dark and depressing, without any shade of sentiment to be seen. While some of you may say that it’s a stupid complaint to have for a movie that’s literally about child soldiers in Africa, to me, it still mattered. The same problem I had with 12 Years a Slave; while the material definitely deserves to be as ugly as it can be, there still needs to be a small glimmer of hope that makes it seem like a worth while experience, and not just a torturous one.

Here, Beasts of No Nation ends on a note that promises some life after the fact, but by the same token, also can’t help but feel as if it’s also saying, “Being a child and forced to kill people is bad. Hey, people in Africa have it bad, don’t they?” While it was definitely an engaging story to watch unfold in front of my very own eyes, it’s also one that doesn’t share much of a strong message at the end and tends to just leave you alone, left to suffer on your own time. Then again, you’re on Netflix, so you can always get rid of those bad feels by binging the absolute hell out of Friends.

As one tends to do after being a witness to traumatic experiences.

Consensus: At times, very hard-to-watch, but still, Beasts of No Nation provides a compelling, awfully emotional look into the gritty world it displays, that it deserves many points for not backing down from its disturbing vision.

8.5 / 10

That's Elba's more subtle way of saying to "cancel the apocalypse".

That’s Elba’s more subtle way of saying to cancel the apocalypse.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mississippi Grind (2015)

You can never lose in poker. Until you lose. And then your life is done with.

Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a bit of a gambler. This has then carried out into the rest of his personal life because he’s not only lost a marriage because of it, but owes a lot of people, a lot of money. Though he intends on paying each and everyone of those debts off, he still can’t seem to take himself away from the poker-table nearly as much as he’d like. One fateful game, however, he meets Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a charming, silver-tongued fellow gambler who has a lot more lady luck on his side than Gerry. In Curtis, Gerry not only sees a gambling-partner that he can bet, gain and lose money with, but a pal that he can go on a road trip with and have all sorts of fun that he hasn’t been able to have in quite some time. However, while on the road to Mississippi for a huge gambling event, they get to know one another better which, in some instances, can prove to be more problematic than either would have liked. But at the end of the day, they’re both two gamblers, just trying to get by in a world that they constantly seem to owe money.

Reservoir Dogs remake? Too soon?

Reservoir Dogs remake? Too soon?

Gambling movies are, for the most part, fun. Which, if you think about it, is kind of screwed-up. For one, gambling is an addiction. And just like many other addictions out there, it takes over a person, strips that person of everything they’ve got and, if they aren’t lucky enough, may ruin said person for the rest of their lives. So yeah, as you can tell, addiction’s not a fun thing to deal with, let alone, a gambling one, so to make gambling movies, actually fun and exciting, seems odd.

However, Mississippi Grind is smart enough to be a little bit of both.

While on one hand, Grind shows gambling and being in the midst of having luck go your way, as an absolute blast and the greatest feeling in the world. The dice are coming up clutch, every hand is in your favor, and the chips seem to constantly be coming your way, no matter how risky or daring your bets may tend to get. That same feeling of electricity and anticipation is in the air during nearly every gambling scene in Grind (which is saying a lot), and it shows people why gambling, in and of itself, can be so addicting to those who want to get a whole bunch of money, in a quick, relatively easy fashion.

On the other hand, however, Grind also shows how all of this constant betting, gambling, winning, and losing, can also be draining – not just emotionally, but financially as well. Like they did with the stellar Half Nelson almost a decade ago, co-writers and co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck show the dark and miserable side effects that come along with any addiction, of any kind. While getting your kicks off by fueling your addiction may have you feeling as if you’re on top of the world and nothing can bring you down, the sad reality is that when everything does crumbling down and you do begin to think clear, sober thoughts, you’ll be constantly chasing after that same high, all over again. But this time, by any means/costs necessary.

And all of this is especially true with Gerry, played exceptionally well by Ben Mendelsohn.

While we get the picture early on in the movie that Gerry is, a bit of a sad sack who owes just about everybody and their mothers, money, we also can see that he’s trying to get better and forget about his addiction that’s slowly, but oh so surely, swallowing him whole. Gerry may go out to the scummiest casinos and clubs out there to play a little game of Texas Hold ‘Em and throw a few bills down, but he knows that he can’t go over any limit, or else it’ll be too late. And while the film definitely shows that that time may have already come, Gerry is still trying to make ends meet with his real-estate job and constant promise of giving those he owes money to, the money he’s already supposed to have been given to them by now.

But because Gerry seems like the sort of poor guy who is in so over-his-head with just about everything, he’s interesting to watch and root for. While we don’t want him to go to these poker-tables and throw all of his money away, at the same time, we also see what kind of over-zealous joy it brings him, so it makes sense that we’d want him to continue on doing what he’s doing. And Mendelsohn, as usual, is great in this rare-lead role of his, but also seems to fit into the role of playing “a good guy” for the first time in quite awhile. While there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll soon follow this role up with about a dozen or so more smarmy, dirty and disgusting villainous ones, it’s still a nice breath of fresh air to see that he’s able to switch things up every once and awhile, and still have people believe in who he’s portraying.

How could anyone say, "You've reached your limit", to a face like that?

How could anyone say, “You’ve reached your limit”, to a face like that?

And while Mendelsohn deserves some fine credit here as Gerry, Ryan Reynolds deserves just as much playing the smooth-talking charmer that is Curtis.

Because Curtis always has something witty to say and seems to be the life of every party he shows up to, it only makes perfect sense that someone like Reynolds wouldn’t just get the role, but play it to perfection. But what’s so interesting about Curtis is that while he may seem like a good guy because of how fun-loving and easy-going he is, there’s also a hint of menace underneath it all that makes it seem like he’s definitely full of bullshit and is also trying to screw Gerry over if that means getting to more money for himself. These are two sides to Reynolds’ persona that we so hardly see, but here, as Curtis, the man does wonders with.

Together, Mendelsohn and Reynolds strike-up a wonderful chemistry that not only sees them having hearty laughs over the good times, but coming close to punches when the hard ones come around, too. You never know whose playing who, or if there’s even a play to begin with; we just know that someone is going to get more lucky at the poker-table than the other, and it’s going to completely set the other one off. And like I said before, Boden and Fleck do solid jobs at presenting these two characters as opposites, in terms of their personalities and whatnot, the movie still highlights the fact that their shared-interest (i.e. gambling), may also be the one that sets them apart forever and ruin both of their lives.

Now, who wants to go out and hit the slots?

Consensus: Both engaging, as well as entertaining, Mississippi Grind does justice to both the world of gambling and also the talents of its cast, creating a movie that’s definitely worth the watch.

8 / 10

If I saw these two at the bar, I would probably have to rudely interrupt and involve myself with whatever they were speaking about.

If I saw these two at the bar, I would probably have to rudely interrupt and involve myself with whatever they were speaking about.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Munich (2005)

When you need a job to be done, always call up the Hulk and James Bond.

During the 1972 Summer Olympics, nine Israeli Olympic athletes were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists, in front of the whole world to see. In retaliation to this, the Israeli government decided to launch a unofficial mission to take out those who were deemed “responsible” for the massacre, by any means necessary. Given the leadership role of the group is Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana), an Israeli Mossad agent, who leaves his pregnant wife (Ayelet Zurer), knowing that he is doing something that he can be proud of, even if the details are a bit shoddy. Joining him are the likes of Steve (Daniel Craig), Carl (Ciarán Hinds), Hans (Hanns Zischler), and a former toy-maker-now-turned-bomb-creator, Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz). Together, the men will unite and band together to take out those whom they are ordered to take out and while things start off promising, eventually, the hits begin to get a bit messy and leave these five men fearing for their own lives. Not to mention that Avner is starting to get in bed with some shady fellas who he uses as sources, but may also not be able to trust them full-well.

Can't get any closer fellas?

Can’t get any closer fellas?

For most of you dedicated DTMMR readers out there (all two of you), you’ll probably realize that I have already done a review of Munich a few years back. And nothing against that review or whatever, but I’ve definitely done some growing in the past few years. Not to mention that I’ve grown a fonder appreciation for Spielberg and all that he puts into his films; no longer is he just “the guy who makes good movies”, he’s now, “the guy who makes good movies and has some incredibly interesting ones, too”. Therefore, it made perfect sense to me to give this movie another shot and see how it is that I felt about it, all these years down the road.

And thankfully, my feelings have gotten better. Even if not everything’s changed.

Munich is, probably, Spielberg’s riskiest movie. Sure, some may say A.I. was, or the real hardcore fans will say 1941 may have been, but I’m afraid that they are wrong, because Munich most definitely is. With Munich, Spielberg was reported to have been given a budget of nearly $70 million, which is fine and not surprising at all considering that it’s Spielberg, but at the same time, when you take into consideration the factors at-play here, it totally is a shocker.

For one, Spielberg cast a largely international cast, with cast-members who weren’t well-known by large audiences (even Eric Bana himself wasn’t a huge box-office draw). Also, he focuses most of his movie on a bloody, violent and downright disturbing mission that does have to deal with the Munich massacre, but is in no way a re-telling of those events (which is something that most studios are looking for when they’re funding a movie). And lastly, if not the most important of all, it has no real end-point. Meaning, the Palestinians and Israelites, even until this very day, are still continuing on to battle and feud with one another, leaving the movie to feel, in a way, incomplete.

But, Spielberg being Spielberg, he makes it work.

A good hour or so of this movie feels like Spielberg getting a chance to make that gritty, dirty and overly-violent Bond movie he’s never been offered and the man takes every opportunity he can to make the feeling last. While this is a two-hour-and-44-minute-long movie, it doesn’t really take us all that long to get to the action of the plot and realize that people are going to be killed in some heinous ways and Spielberg’s not going to shy away from it a single bit. Though it should definitely be noted that the countless killings and murders in this movie are portrayed as horrifying and as shocking as they should be, Spielberg also doesn’t forget about the certain rush, or excitement one can feel when a plan is going into action. There’s a few scenes that highlight this, but they’re all tense to watch and remind us all what it is about Spielberg’s fun side that we miss so much of.

Still though, there’s a lot to this movie that’s very harsh and sad, which works well with Spielberg trying to get his message across and whatnot. From what it seems like with Munich, Spielberg does not think too fondly of the violent-relations that Palestine and Israel have with one another, nor should he; Spielberg knows that religion will continue to separate people till the end of time, but at the same time, he doesn’t believe that any of it should lead to senseless violence or deaths. In a way, Spielberg is basically using Munich as a way to get across his age old message of “everybody, let’s just get along”, but because this message is mostly specific to the never-ending issues between Palestine and Israel, it feels fresh and fully-realized.

Believe it or not, these guys could still kill you. Just let them finish their dinner first.

Believe it or not, these guys could still kill you. Just let them finish their dinner first.

No longer is Spielberg preaching! He’s actually got something worth while to say!

Of course though, what usually plagues Spielberg in most other movies, still follows him with Munich, in that he still hasn’t figured out a way to end a strong story, with a strong ending. There’s many endings within Munich, and while none of them are really bad per se, they mostly feel unnecessary and mundane; it’s almost as if Spielberg was like, “Hey, maybe the audience didn’t see my parallels to 9/11 the first time I brought them up. Let me throw another one in there!” Of course, if there’s a director to make any sort of 9/11 parallels to Israeli-Palestine conflict, then it’s Spielberg, but here, it feels over-done and too self-fulfilling – as if Spielberg realized how smart and nifty he was for connecting the literary dots, that he wanted the whole world to see.

But still, Spielberg makes more good decisions with Munich, than he does bad, and while that sounds like faint praise, I can assure you that it’s not supposed to. This is most evident with the cast and whom Spielberg decided fit which sort of roles perfectly, as minor and standard as they may have been. Daniel Craig, despite not being Bond just quite yet, still felt the pugnacious-feel of Steve so well that it would make sense if those in charge of who chooses the next Bond, saw this and decided to give the hunk a shot; Ciarán Hinds brings a certain warmness to Carl, even despite the mean things he has to do; same goes for Hanns Zischler as, well, Hans, another older-man who feels as if he’s being thrown into a situation he never asked for, but is happy to accept the challenge anyway; Mathieu Kassovitz’s Robert is perfectly nerdy that it makes it all the more disorienting to see what it is that he’s actually creating; and Geoffrey Rush, despite his accent really going in and out, still works well with the role as the government official you’re never too sure to trust or not.

Of course though, it’s Eric Bana who the movie depends on the most and he deserves it. Bana is, in other words, an underrated actor, I feel; while he’s never lit the screen on fire quite like he did with Chopper, the guy always shows up in movies, giving it his all, and continuing to show that he can blend in well with any director’s style. Bana’s done it all and it’s about time that he was given his own, dramatic-powerhouse to work wonders with! And that’s what he does as Avner; while the character isn’t necessarily made out to be as “heroic” as some of Bana’s other characters can sometimes be written as, there’s still a lot to this guy that makes you feel as if he’s got everybody’s best intentions at heart and doesn’t want anything bad to happen. Cause, after all, he’s just taking orders.

And also, allowing for Jews everywhere to get laid again.

Consensus: Despite a lackluster ending, Munich is a fact-based spy-thriller with emotion, a well-acted cast, and the usual dose of interesting anecdotes that Spielberg is able to orchestrate effectively.

8 / 10

Don't question Eric Bana. You won't like Eric Bana when you question him.

Don’t question Eric Bana. You won’t like Eric Bana when you question him.

Photos Courtesy of: Having Said That, One Shot, Amazon Web Services

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

AIposterIf this is the future, I don’t want anything to do with it.

In the near, not-too-distant future, global warming has caused massive flooding and heavily reduced the human population. Also during this time, a scientist by the name of Professor Allen Hobby (William Hurt) has started creating robots known as Mecha who walk, talk, and feel just as humans do. One robot in particular is David (Haley Joel Osment) ends up getting adopted by Henry (Sam Robards) and Monica Swinton (Frances O’Connor), who are still reeling from a injury their son, Martin (Jake Thomas), had and left him in a coma. Through David, Henry and Monica get the chance to help raise another child; one that, due to the technology embedded in him, no matter what, David will always and forever love them both. And for awhile, it seems to be going great, but once Martin wakes up, then all hell breaks loose for David and the rest of the Swinton family. This leaves David navigating through the rest of the world where robots are either left to slave their ways through raunchy jobs, or get destroyed for the public’s amusement. But no matter what, David wants to become a real boy and along with Joe (Jude Law), a robot gigolo, he believes that can happen.

Like with most families, the good times don't always last.

Like with most families, the good times don’t always last.

A lot of people have gotten on Spielberg’s case for A.I. and unreasonably so. For one, all of the odds were stacked against him as is with Kubrick wanting to make this movie, dying, and then having his estate pass off the rights to him. Another, is that Spielberg really had to make this appeal to a broad-audience so that he could not only make a “good” movie, but one that would also make rich people, even more rich (something that, due to the source material he was stuck to work with, was no easy task). And lastly, well, because he’s Steven Spielberg; while he can do whatever he wants, he still always loves to end things on a happy, if not overly-positive note.

Which, considering the bulk of A.I., is surprising.

What’s perhaps most interesting about A.I. is that it finds Spielberg in pure-creative form. While we start the movie off at a suburban household, we eventually get thrown into this huge, futuristic world, and this is where Spielberg really shines. This isn’t to say that the first-half of the movie doesn’t work as its own, because it does, but it also seems manipulative in that Spielberg needed a reason for David to be thrown out into this great big world, so therefore, had to create tension among characters who, quite frankly, are pretty stupid.

No seriously, take the Henry character, as played by Sam Robards, for instance. At the beginning of the movie, we see that he’s suddenly all about having a robot-boy come into their lives and fill the void that their unconscious son can’t for the time being. Monica, on the other hand, but soon turns the other cheek. Around the same time, however, Henry begins, for no reason or another, to despise the very idea of David and clearly wants nothing to do with the thing, so therefore, scolds it and refers to it in passing, as if it’s something they have to deal with, rather than embrace.

Uhm, excuse me, bro? But weren’t you the one who bought it in the first place?

Anyway, then the Martin kid wakes up, gets pissed-off that David is trying to be too much like him, and then, we’re treated (which, in this case, probably isn’t the right word, but whatever), to one of the more disturbing scenes Spielberg’s ever made. David is abandoned in a grassy, mostly deserted area of the woods by Monica, who does nothing but push and shove him away from her, professing that she wished she “taught him more about the world”. Considering that she never discussed this when David and her were spending so much time together, this seems random, but still, the fact that David – something manufactured to love unconditionally – is yelling, screaming, and clearly, “feeling” distraught, makes this scene hit harder than it probably should. After all, David is now lonely in this world and while he may not know what to expect, he’s still a young thing, and it’s hard to not feel an ounce of sympathy for him.

But like I said, once the movie gets into discovering this world more, Spielberg clearly starts to work his smart wonders in not only exploring its creepiness, but its downright bleakness. While Kubrick would have definitely envisioned a much darker, more disturbing future, Spielberg’s future is still pretty damn bleak; a future where huge crowds of hooting, hollering, beer-swigging crowds cheer over the destruction of malfunctioning robots for entertainment. Once again, the picture that Spielberg paints isn’t nice, or sweet, but because it’s Spielberg, it’s slightly a bit lighter than what Kubrick would have done and because of that, it’s always going to be held up to scrutiny.

However, it shouldn’t and that’s the problem.

One of the key themes within A.I. is loneliness. David being on his own for a solid majority of this flick (although, he does have the adorable Teddy by his side), this is especially clear. He has a quest for becoming a real boy, but because we know that this dream of his will never come true and the adventure will lead to almost nothing, it’s very sad to watch as he constantly tries to make himself, as well as those around him, believe in it. Though he’s a robot, he’s still a kid-like robot, whose wonder and amazement of the world around him can never be matched by any cynic old-head, like you or I.

"You can do anything you put your mind to, David. Except pee. Or eat. Okay, not 'anything', but you get my point, kid."

“You can do anything you put your mind to, David. Except pee. Or eat. Okay, not ‘anything’, but you get my point, kid.”

Once again, this is all sad and it’s supposed to be. Even Joe’s story, although random and not especially necessary, still seems to revolve around him making all sorts of sweet love to women, yet, still not have any true connections in the world and mostly just glide-on by. That he has nothing else more to make of his life other than that he was “a great lover”, already makes it clear that Joe is a robot, with nothing else to him but just that. Together, David and Joe find one another and seem to set out on a world that, quite frankly, doesn’t care about whether or not exist.

I’m getting depressed just writing about this. But I’m not mad, because that’s the point.

By the same token, though, Spielberg still screws the movie up by losing this idea about half-way through. Though the movie is nearly two-and-a-half-hours, it takes a long while to get where it needs to get going and once it eventually does reach its drive, it feels like something of a cop-out. Spielberg decides to take us to the source of David’s creation and what’s supposed to be scary, shocking, and disturbing, just seems like an odd twist thrown at the end to create a drama, as if this were some sort of futuristic soap opera.

And then, there is, as we all know, the ending. Yes, this is the same ending that Spielberg still catches flak for, as well as he should. To be honest, it feels like something of a cop-out; the idea of having this story relate to Pinocchio’s already feels like that, but when Spielberg jumps into the future, many, many years later, and describes practically everything to us, it’s as if he doesn’t trust his audience anymore. Now, the same audience who sat by, watched and were disturbed by the sci-fi future he had to present, is now the same audience who is listening to Ben Kingsley rant on about exposition that doesn’t make any sense and would have probably been left better off not included.

Then, it just ends. David is treated to a dream that he always wanted, and even though the movie has reached almost two-and-a-half hours by this point, it still feels as if there’s something more to be explored. The outside world surrounding David, maybe, but still, there’s a certain incomplete feeling to A.I. that makes me not only want to watch it again, but possibly think harder and longer of where it could have gone.

But the movie, as it stands, still works – it’s just not nearly as great as it could have been had Kubrick been alive to have it made and see the light of day. Rather than fall for all of the sympathetic, melodramatic sap that hits the later-half, Kubrick would have found a certain path to go with that would have made it stuck around longer. But because he wasn’t around, the movie feels like it wants to tell a sweet ending, to a pretty bitter story.

The only way Spielberg insists on doing.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t reach the magnifying heights it could have with Kubrick alive to make it, A.I. is still bleak, dark and interesting enough to make up for the fact that Spielberg sort of drops the ball with the last-act.

8 / 10

A robot, a teddy bear, and a male gigolo walk into a bar...

A robot, a teddy bear, and a male gigolo walk into a bar…

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Goodnight Mommy (2015)

Moms, think long and hard about the next time you ground your kids.

10-year-old twins Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) are staying at their lakeside house for the time being and they don’t really have much of anything to do. Sure, they can go outside, run around, play in the woods, and go swimming, but other than that, there’s not much else that can hold their excitement long enough due to the fact that they’re literally in the middle of the woods, without anyone or anything else around them. What makes the trip all the more bothersome is the fact that their mother (Susanne Wuest) isn’t acting as her usual, loving, and adoring self; in fact, she’s downright miserable. Due to a recent facial-surgery she got, she’s been quite cranky and hasn’t really been one to make the best decisions when it comes to making this trip pleasant, and that’s what bothers both Elias and Lukas the most. They feel, due to this recent surgery, that their mother may not actually be “their mother”; instead, they think she’s been replaced by some evil, cackling monster who has set out to torture and kill these boys. Whether or not this is true, they don’t know, nor do they care, because they’re not going to take any chances.

If you see that looking out at you, turn around and run!

If you see that looking out at you, turn around and run!

Goodnight Mommy is a little fucked-up movie. It’s a good one in that it takes awhile for its fucked-up-ness to take center stage, and therefore, keep you in total wait and anticipation, but it’s a fucked-up movie nonetheless. Not too many of these kinds of movies can work without feeling gratuitous or better yet, just downright annoying, but co-writers and directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala have somehow found a way to make sure that they take enough time to where we’re invested, having no clue what’s next, and ultimately preparing ourselves for the disturbing events that unfold in the later-half.

And yes, they are quite disturbing, but the movie is smart in that it doesn’t fall back on that fact.

Instead, it actually presents a weird, but interesting story where we think we know where it’s going to go, due to the fact that we’ve seen so many countless other horror flicks just like it, but finds different ways on how to tell itself and keep you in the dark as much as possible, without ever feeling annoying. Of course, the movie shows you what it wants to show you and keeps a lot of things in the dark, but whereas that would mostly bother me with other movies, it didn’t do so here. Rather than feeling like a conceit the creators wanted to do just to mess with the audience, it felt like it was going hand-in-hand with the disorienting and sometimes confusing state of mind these kiddies must have been put in.

Sometimes, their mom will be all nice and sweet to them (overtly so, but still nice and sweet nonetheless). But at the other times, she’ll turn into this mean, dark and cruel shrill of a woman that acts more like their age, rather than her own. Sure, we have the feeling that due to the fact that these are kids and we’re seeing the story from their perspective, that maybe she’s just a bit pissed-off and over-reacting to certain things, but still, the movie makes us believe that anything is feasible. That the movie has you believe that this woman could actually be a, ahem, “monster”, is something to applaud, especially considering that, at times, it feels all too real and normal.

But the movie continues to go on and that’s about it. We never know what’s actually true, nor do we ever get easy answers to some downright frustrating questions. But still, that’s what makes these kinds of movies work and I’ll take that in a horror movie any time of the week, rather than just sitting around and watching a bunch blood, guts and gore spill-out just because “it’s freaky”.

No, it’s not! Weird child twins and angry mommies are!

Of course, the one aspect that holds Goodnight Mommy back quite a bit is that it sometimes feel like it’s not really doing much else. Sure, it’s eerie, it’s creepy and it’s hinting at some downright sinister places it could end up, but really, that’s all there is to it. We get some sort of insight into who the mom character is and why it is that she may be so upset and ticked-off during this whole trip, but it’s rather slight pieces of info that only seem thrown in there because the creators didn’t want to be criticized for being “shrill”. And I say all this considering what takes place during the final act, but I won’t give any of that away.

It takes two to tango.

It takes two to tango.

Just know, it’s fucked-up.

And as the mom, Susanne Wuest is pretty good because we never know full well what her deal is. Of course, a lot of that can be passed-off onto the film-makers and much less of her, but there is this odd sense of morbidness to her that makes us wonder what’s going to turn her into being mad-as-hell. Though she does get an opportunity to be a bit nice, there’s still a feeling of aggression with her and it makes us just as in-suspense as these kids are.

And playing those said kids, are actual real life twins, Elias and Lukas Schwarz. Both are, yes, creepy, but they also work well together in that they seem like they would have the kind of chemistry that two seemingly identical people would have growing up. They aren’t the same in terms of personality and they don’t always get along, but when their instincts are kicking, the other one feels it and that, to me, is what made this movie feel a whole lot more realistic than maybe what it had intended to be going for.

Still, they’ve got nothing on those Shining twins.


Consensus: Weird, mysterious, but most of all, creepy, Goodnight Mommy is a small, contained and intimate little piece of horror that feels a lot more raw and genuine than it may have intended for, but it still works nonetheless.

8 / 10

I still do this whenever my mom enters a room. So smart thinking, kids!

I still do this whenever my mom enters a room. So smart thinking, kids!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Billy Elliot (2000)

True men dance. So take that, daddy!

Young, British boy Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) wants to be a dancer. Although he goes to the local gym for prepaid boxing-lessons, he has no passion behind hitting people just for the heck of it. Instead, he prefers to learn a thing or two about swiveling his hips, jumping up and down, clapping his hands, and moving around rooms as if he was the second-coming of Fred Astaire. However, due to the fact that he lives in a very conservative British coal mining town and also because he lives with his relatively masculine father (Gary Lewis) and brother (Jamie Draven), Billy’s not allowed to really tell anybody about his life long dream. That’s why he and the chain-smoking, foul-mouthed dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters), decide that it’s best that they keep it their little secret; one that may or may not get out and when it does, will affect everyone. Most importantly, Billy himself who is trying his hardest to be the best dancer he can be and get accepted into a very high-class, prestigious dance academy.

Us men feel your pain, bud.

Us men feel your pain, bud.

Like most inspirational tales, Billy Elliot follows a familiar pattern. Protagonist has talent, protagonist faces adversity from someone or something surrounding them, protagonist trains harder and harder (of course, cue the montage), and eventually, it all leads up to the protagonist having to prove themselves in an epic climax that can only be a single event. You see this with just about every sports movie; basketball, football, soccer, baseball, tennis, cross country, track-and-field, fencing, bad-mitten, and etc.

And now, you can add dancing to the list, all because of Billy Elliot.

Because, like I said, Billy Elliot is a lot like these other movies in that it follows the same sort of line and hardly diverts away from it. While some of you may be utterly displeased with the fact that I may have given something away about the movie, I assure you that I have not. Because obviously, all I did was layout where the movie goes, not where it ends up, nor how it gets there. And believe it or not, those later aspects matter most and they’re what help Billy Elliot be something a bit more than just a traditional tale of a boy conquering his fears and living out his dreams.

For one, it’s a movie that has a heart, something I’m not sure many of Stephen Daldry’s other movies have been known to have. But unsurprisingly, there’s something about Billy and those around him that keep this movie surprisingly sweet, when it could have easily gone sour. A solid example of this is when one of Billy’s friends turns out to be gay and harmlessly kisses him on the cheek. Rather than Billy criticizing him for it, Billy instead embraces this fact about his buddy, even if he has to turn down the offer because, well, he’s not gay. He may enjoy dancing quite a lot, but that doesn’t make him gay, nor does it make him any less of a man than those that surround him.

While I’m not particularly sure that a kid as young as the one portrayed by Billy’s friend would actually be so sure and out with himself as he is here, the movie still drives home the point that it doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, or what social/ethnic background you come from – if there is something you love to do, then do it, dammit! Billy is constantly being bombarded by the masculine men that live in his home and because of the society they’re living in, it’s considered not “right” for him to be out on a stage, prancing around in tight-clothing and shaking his rump like no tomorrow. There’s something wrong with this, we understand, within the movie, but it also carries a universal theme that no matter how many years we think we advance, there’s still that idea that men, aren’t men, unless they’re eating, killing, or screwing something.

Sometimes, men can dance and be masculine. Think of all those ladies’ tushes they touch while they’re on the stage.

I guess she's Ginger Rodgers, too.

I guess she’s Ginger Rodgers, too.

But anyway, I realize that I’m not doing this movie any favors by making it sound as preachy and as annoying as possible, but I can assure you, it’s very far from. Daldry keeps the message only alive through the song and dance numbers, most of which, are as joyful and exciting as they should be. Though there’s maybe one or two more montages than there should be (we get it, he likes to dance to glam-rock!), the movie still moves at a fine pace to where it feels like we understand what it is about dancing that Billy loves, while also wanting to see him succeed at his dream of becoming a respectable dancer. However, that word “respectable” has many meanings and it’s engaging to watch as he constantly has to battle with each and everyone, trying to figure out just who the hell he actually is in the process.

And as Billy, Jamie Bell does a fine job in a very young role of his. Obviously, this is the one that put him on the map and has led to a pretty respectable career thus far, but it’s better if you don’t think about it as a time capsule performance, and more as one that shows how lucky Daldry was to get him when he did. Because honestly, getting a kid actor who can, well, act and do so in a way that’s not obvious or cloying, is especially impressive. Not to mention the fact that, from what the movie seems to show, Bell did a lot of his own dancing and it impresses me all the more.

Why Bell doesn’t dance more in movies nowadays is beyond me, but hey, maybe in the next Fantastic Four movie, eh?

But the one who steals the show is Julie Walters, playing Billy’s foul-mouthed, but fun teacher/inspirational-figure. Walters is hilarious in this role and shows that even while she may have a funny quip to end every sentence on, she still does have a heart, a soul, and genuinely care about what happens to Billy and his career with dancing. Though the movie drives home the point that Billy is looking for a mother-figure in his life to reach out to, it doesn’t over-do its hand and allows for the scenes these two have together to have a quiet bit of resonance in them. That Billy wants somebody to love, adore and teach him is sweet, but the fact that a woman who seems as uninspired as Mrs. Wilkinson is actually that person and wants to continue to be that person, makes it all the more sweeter.

Okay, yeah. This thing’s pretty corny.

Consensus: Despite a familiar layout, Billy Elliot still features another heart, humor and fine performances to make it worth a watch, especially since it’s Stephen Daldry’s most pleasant movie to-date.

8 / 10

Oh boy-o! Where has the time gone!

Oh boy-o! Where has the time gone!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

99 Homes (2015)

Don’t ever trust a landlord.

As soon as the crash of 2008 occurred, everyone in the United States was left without a paddle. One such person was Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a single father who, after much fighting and arguing with the court, gets evicted from his Orlando home. Seeing that he has lost his family-home, Nash sets out to do whatever he can to get it back – even if that means having to join up and work for the same man who kicked him out of his house to begin with: real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Carver has certain practices that aren’t what some would call “ethical”, or better yet, “legal”, but the money’s so good that Nash doesn’t care. Eventually though, Nash begins to move up the ladder, which takes him away from working on the homes, and brings him now to actually having to interact with the tenants who are in the actual homes. This mostly involves Nash posting notices on doors, warning tenants of being vacated, and, as time rolls on, even having to kick some tenants on his own. Clearly this is something that Nash doesn’t feel comfortable with, but once again, it’s all about the money and the prospect of getting his family back in order to the way they once were.


So message-y!

Have you ever been stuck in a lecture at all in your life, whether it be with your parents, a teacher, or one of those Jesus-nuts from off the street, and not want to leave? Instead, you hold on to every single word that they say, even though you know the end-point? You know that they’re not going to start off by stating something like, “Gay marriage is bad”, and then end with, “Well, you know, you can do what you want.” The lecture is, most definitely, going to start with an agenda, continue on with that agenda, and, you guessed it, end with that same agenda. And yet, something about the lecture is just keeping you on your toes and surprisingly interested.

That’s how I felt with 99 Homes – a long lecture about the housing crisis and all the evil-doers behind it, yet, I never wanted to turn away or leave.

Eventually, that time did come around, but that’s not till later, so just wait dammit! Listen to me lecture about stuff now!

For one, Ramin Bahrani seems to know what he’s talking about here. Clearly, he’s put his heart and soul into material that, for a good majority of people out there, will not find an easy way to handle. It will, most likely, hit too close to home, hard, and re-open old wounds that were probably still healing. However, Bahrani seems to be interested in what these wounds still hold. Are they sadness? Are they grief? Or, are they wishes that something better occurred?

Well, 99 Homes is, in a way, that fantasy being played-out. One thing is certain about the movie, and that’s that it’s not totally a drama. I mean, yes, it’s most definitely a drama that’s emotional, sad, and for a good portion, filled with lots of interesting talking-points, but in all honesty, is really a thriller. Once we see Garfield’s Dennis Nash start picking up work as one of Shannon’s Rick Carver’s lackeys, then it’s balls to the walls from there. This Nash fella is taking away pools, air-conditioners and handing out eviction notices to people who have no clue just what the hell kind of storm has hit them dead-on in the face. While, at the same time, he’s making all of this money and seeming to be loving it.

Sure, he’s morally-conflicted by the fact that the person he’s getting rich off of, is the very same person who got him kicked out of his house, but because the money’s continuing to come in and the dreams seem promising, he lets it all slide by. And you know what? It’s hard to watch this and not want him to, either. Dennis Nash, as he’s presented to us, is nothing more than just your average, blue-collar dude who, like many others just like him, was short-shifted when the crash of 2008 came around and had no idea of what to do next with his life, his family, or his career. All he knew was what he was good at and tried to go where the money went.

That’s why, when we see Nash get thrown out of his house, it’s disturbing and visceral. Many people had to go through the same ordeal he’s going through and it was most definitely 100% more tragic to them. And that’s why, when we see that Nash is clearly pleased with himself making all of this cash money, it’s great to see him happy and enjoying himself. After all, he’s just a normal dude who isn’t under normal circumstances, so why continue to act normal? Why not try something new and go with that from there?

"When you said, 'movie with Spider-Man,' I thought you meant Tobey Maguire! Who's this damn kid!"

“When you said, ‘movie with Spider-Man,’ I thought you meant Tobey Maguire! Who’s this damn kid!”

Clearly, Rahmin Bahrani thinks this is a bad idea. However, his movie proves otherwise.

Bahrani has crafted a nice little thriller that takes you through everything one may need to know about the housing-crash, how it was operated, who was responsible, and those who were affected the most. But at the center of it all, is probably the most realistic character of the bunch, who also seems to be the most sinister: Michael Shannon’s Rick Carver. There’s no denying the fact that Michael Shannon’s a good actor, but here, as Rick Carver, he gets to stretch his wings a whole lot more and show, that even despite his character being a pretty despicable human specimen, there’s still something we want to watch and see more of him.

We know that he’s a baddie, but we also know that he, like many others, are just trying to get by with what he knows and what he’s best at. But what’s best about Carver is that he doesn’t try to make any excuses or apologies for the way he is – he just is. For instance, there’s a scene in the middle of the film where Carver laces into this tirade about how, “America was built on winners. Not losers.” It’s not just hard to take your eyes off of him because it’s literally just a single-shot, zooming in on his face, but also, because some of what Shannon is spouting on about is true. You may not want to believe it as being such, but it is and it makes this movie feel like a smart bit of preaching, rather than just preaching for the sake of it.

And don’t let me forget Andrew Garfield, because the man is great here! What with him being forced to play Peter Parker, it’s hard to remember that, at one time, Garfield was a very promising, young, and talented actor that seemed primed and ready for some very interesting material to come his way. Now with Spidey out of his way, Garfield seems like he’s enjoying some time being able to dig deep into characters that aren’t the kind you’d expect someone of his good-looks to play; you know, such as a middle-aged, middle-class single-father.

However, as good as Garfield may be, his character sadly falls prey to an ending that, honestly, came close to ruining the movie for me.

I won’t spoil much, other than to say that it felt like Bahrani, throughout a good majority of 99 Homes, was making a movie that wasn’t going to play it nice, sweet and kind, and instead, go for the gritty-realism that’s expected of source material such as this. However, he does the bait-and-switch and decides that maybe he wants some melodrama, messages, and red herrings thrown into the mix. I’ve already said too much, but just know, when the ending comes around, it may disappoint you more than please.

That may just be me, though.

Consensus: 99 Homes is a timely-thriller that gets by on the excellent performances, however, is a bit short-shifted by a weak ending that keeps it away from being a whole lot better.

8 / 10

Big houses. Big cars. Big women. The life of a real estate agent, yo.

Big houses. Big cars. Big women. The life of a real estate agent, yo.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Sicario (2015)

Do drugs kill? Or do people? Think, think, people!

After a sting operation goes terribly wrong, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is left wanting any sorts of revenge on whoever may have been responsible. Thankfully, she gets called up to the big leagues when higher-ups in the FBI, like Matt (Josh Brolin), recruit her for a mission to take down a notorious drug lord in Mexico. Kate knows that this is what she wants to do, but she starts to see that the mission may not be all that it appears to be. For one, an informant that the FBI is working with, named Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), comes from a very shady history that, in ways, seems a lot more reprehensible than the one that this drug lord is most known for. Secondly, Kate has to fear for her life in ways that she didn’t expect. While she think she may be doing the right thing, she’s making herself a target for all sorts of evil-doers that may be associated with the cartel that her operation is targeting, but some may also be associated with the FBI – the people that she’s supposed to be protected by and arm-in-arms with.

I don’t know what sort of travesty occurred in Denis Villeneuve’s personal life, but after having seen this, Enemy and Prisoners, I can easily say that Villeneuve wants to hurt someone. Whether it be people, animals, or trees, Denis Villeneuve seems like he’s got an ax to grind with someone and because of that, we’re just watching him make these dark, brutal, brooding, and downright angry movies about people that are, well, dark, brutal, brooding and downright angry as well.

I'd hate to be on the end of anything with Benincio Del Toro. Not to mention, his gun.

I’d hate to be on the end of anything with Benincio Del Toro. Not to mention, his scope.

And I’m loving it all!

I mean, of course, whatever happened Denis, I’m sorry for your loss. But please, whatever has you so upset with the world you live in, let it continue to mess with your for a little while longer. So long as you’re making movies like Sicario, where we can see you vent all of your frustration in mean, but exciting ways.

With that said, too, yeah, Sicario‘s pretty awesome. In every sense of the word, it’s a thriller. But because this Denis Villeneuve we’re talking about here and somebody like, I don’t know, say, the one and only Michael Bay, there’s a lot more brewing underneath the surface other than just more guns, more bullets, more blood, more death, more drugs, and more Mexican gangbangers. Of course, all of the guns, bullets, blood, death, drugs, and Mexican gangbangers help keep this movie exciting and tense as anything I saw displayed in Prisoners, but when you strip all of that away, you got a really interesting story about how the FBI is, well, shady.

Through Emily Blunt’s Kate Mercer, we see this world where FBI agents and cartel members constantly duke it out between who has more money, more power, and most importantly, more weapons at their disposal. In fact, in me just describing that, I realized that this movie would have been at least ten times better, had it literally just been a one-on-one, winner-take-all, last-man-standing battle between the FBI and Mexican drug cartel. They could have gotten Bruce Buffer to announce it, Jim Ross and Joe Rogan to commentate, and hell, even Mills Lane to referee everything.

But sadly, Sicario is not that movie.

But I don’t mean that in a bad way because, in its own, all-too-realistic manner, Sicario has a lot to say other than that, “people who do and get involved with drugs are bad, bad people that you probably should stay away from on the streets or at social gatherings.” In this post-9/11 world that we currently live in, nowadays, the FBI and so many other people involved with the government and in catching baddies, are so concerned with getting the highest top-tier guys that they can find, that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get there. This, in some more ways than one, means that they find themselves in some shady alliances that, on paper, may look nice, but when you get to thinking about it, don’t really make much of sense. Why would the FBI, let one violent, sadistic, and smart criminal go free, just because he helped them get to another one who has the same characteristics? Is it because one bowed-out before the other? Or is it because it’s the only hand that the FBI can play with that makes them look good to their superiors and the people who hand-out promotions?

I’ll let you think about that one, but yeah, you get my drift. If you look under Sicario‘s hood, you’ll find that there’s a lot more going on and to be said, which is fine and all, but occasionally, it does take away the sheer awesomeness that is the action here. And by “action”, I don’t mean fist-fights, gun-battles, car-chases and/or sword-action galore – I mean the kind of action you see in Michael Mann movies where the sheer fact that it’s being lead-up to and spread out over time, intensifies it a whole lot more. There’s one sequence in particular where the FBI is stuck on the Mexican-border with a hostage of theirs and honestly, I won’t spoil it any further. Just know that it’s a pretty rad sequence so that, when it comes up, you can get ready and let your friends know how rad it’s going to be.

Courtesy of Dan the Man, of course.

And what makes the action all the more exciting is the fact that it’s all being shot by the legend himself, Roger Deakins. Roger Deakins could shoot a film-sequence of me sitting on my love seat, flicking through the premium channels to where I found good re-runs of my favorite Wire episodes (spoiler alert, I never do!) and it would have more layers of beauty than a whole Adam Sandler movie ever would. He’s one of the main reasons Sicario breathes as vibrantly as it does, regardless of what’s happening. People can be sitting around, talking, or they could be getting all ready and amped-up to blow some people’s heads off. Either way, it’s always lovely to watch, all because of Mr. Deakins himself.

Look out for the camo!

Look out for the camo!

Not to mention, too, the cast is pretty great. This isn’t a total surprise to me considering that Denis Villeneuve got just about every role down to a perfect T with Prisoners, but still, it’s worth noting that when your movie features Emily Blunt as a bad-ass, kick-ass, take-some-names FBI agent and doesn’t have me laugh my rear-end off, then yeah, you’re solid gold. Granted, Blunt is a great actress who has shown, many times before, that she can move around any genre she likes and make it work in her favor, but still, this role could have easily been a silly one, had the wrong actress been placed into it. Then again, the fact that it was an actress placed into this role to begin with, and not some chiseled, ripped-up, and beefy dude with other masculine features, is worth praising.

But the reason why Blunt doesn’t seem to get too much notice is because, quite frankly, she’s used as our eyes and ears for this story. She’s at least one step above that and has something resembling a personality, but overall, she’s basically our conduit to everything that goes down and as to why this story is being told. Which is good, because without her, we wouldn’t have been treated to the likes of Benincio Del Toro as Alejandro.

As soon as you see Benincio Del Toro in a movie about Mexican drug cartels, you automatically think, “Oh great. Re-run of Traffic! Next!” But because Del Toro’s an actor and a very good one at that, he likes to shake things up and show that he can give this character a type of menace that will have you terrified for days. However, at the same time, he gives this guy a conscience that makes you think he’s a human being that doesn’t like to chop down trees for the hell of it, but at the same time, still doesn’t make you think he’s a total nice guy, either. There’s a certain back-story to this character that puts everything he does or says into perspective and it gives Del Toro absolute free reign to do whatever he wants with this character, and it’s a blast to watch.

Sure, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, and surprisingly, Jeffrey Donovan, are all good in their own rights, but it’s Del Toro who runs away with this movie and will have you thinking about him for days.

And also the cool explosions, bro!

Consensus: Tense, well-acted, and most importantly, complex, Sicario is more than just your average thriller with lots of explosions and bullets flying, but still takes much pleasure in showing those things, too.

8.5 / 10

Damn. I still hate that Josh Krasinski, man!

Damn. I still hate that Josh Krasinski, man!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Heaven Knows What (2015)

Kids, for the millenials.

After she commits suicide because the love of her life, Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones), doesn’t return the same feelings she has for him, Harley (Arielle Holmes) slices her own wrists and ends up in a rehab clinic. Eventually, she gets out and is supposed to be all clean, new, and fresh; however, what happens is basically the same old, same old. Harley turns back to the world of drugs, where she’s constantly trying to get by on scamming people, day in and day out, all just to get whichever heroin she can find next for the right price. She’s not alone in this seedy underworld as Mike (Buddy Duress), a drug-dealer and sometimes guy-she-hooks-up-with, has something of a partnership with Harley in getting as much money as they can so that they can pay their rent, get the drugs, get high, and continue into the same pattern the next day, and the day after that, and so on and so forth. But what keeps Harley alive and well is the fact that she still loves Ilya, even if he could care less about her. Because, to her, Ilya is the one she wants to spend the rest of her life, whether he wants to or not, and that causes a lot of problems once Mike and Ilya start feuding over most things teenage heroin-addicts feud over.

Take a long one, honey. You need it.

Take a long one, honey. You need it.

A lot of people may hate Heaven Knows What for solely being about, well, heroin addicts. Young heroin addicts, to be specific, but heroin addicts nonetheless who, really don’t have much to do with their lives. Their days, for the most part, consist of hustling whoever they can hustle, doing whatever it takes, and losing all sorts of self-respect, just so that they can have that next, wonderful, beautiful, and amazing high that they’ve been fighting for since the second they woke up. That’s basically it and you know what?

It’s hard to ever take your eyes off of.

Most of that has to do with the fact that we hardly ever see these kinds of stories/characters told and given to us on the big screen. And even when they are, they’re usually done so in a way that’s preachy, obvious and judgmental; here, the smart thing that the Safdie brothers do is that they don’t ever, not for a second, make it seem like they’re judging these characters for who they are, what they’re doing, and the naughty ideas they’ve got in their heads. The Safdie’s see these characters for all that they are and because of that, the movie itself takes a back-seat to what it is that these characters are up to.

And sure, while it may not seem like they’re not doing much of anything at all (except just getting high), there’s still something incredibly compelling that makes the events all the more interesting. Sometimes, they’ll be in the park, or on the streets, or in a McDonald’s, just generally acting like a bunch of hooligans, causing all sorts of shenanigans, and not giving a single turd about who it is that they’re bothering, offending, or pissing-off-to-high-heaven – they’re high and living life, so why should they?

In a way, Heaven Knows What feels like a documentary that the Safdie’s just got very lucky in being able to film. There are certain moments that are staged (and they’re the weakest), but honestly, there’s plenty of scenes here that make it seem like the Safdie’s just told their actors to go out there, do whatever it is that they wanted to, and not stop until they said, “cut”. Though it’s never clear just how much is made up on the spot, or actual, genuine dialogue written for those moments in particular, there’s no denying the fact that whatever’s going on here, it’s working. It could have easily been another one of those micro-budget, grit-pieces from first-time directors that are just about as meandering as a Joe Swanberg piece (early Swanberg, that is), but surprisingly and thankfully, it doesn’t turn out that way one bit.

And even if it does, so what?

Heroin chic?

Heroin chic?

These characters, literally, live each and every one of their days, meandering along the dirty, raunchy streets, having no clue of what they’re going to do, when they’re going to do anything, or where the hell they’re going to end up at by the day’s end. All they do know is that, well, they’re going to high as hell, yo. Because of that, the fact that the movie feels like there’s almost no direction behind it whatsoever, works perfectly; these characters clearly have no directions in life, so why should they have any direction anywhere else!

And like I said before, the movie doesn’t try to make any of these characters into saint-like figures that are clearly better and made for more than what they’re surrounded by. Of course, that’s implied, seeing as how they’re all young, aspiring and street smart kids, but the movie never makes any one person out like they’re the nice people of the group and therefore, should be seen as such. Granted, nobody here is really considered a sinner, either – there’s just people who are a lot more morally reprehensible than others.

The only one who doesn’t seem to be is Arielle Holmes as, Harley, who is basically just a semi-fictionalized version of her own self. You’d think that because Holmes wrote this, that her character would get the lovely and sympathetic treatment, but gratefully, that doesn’t happen. She is just as worse than the company she keeps, but she’s also one that seems like she’s got more of a head on her shoulders, as well as a heart in her chest.

Of course, she’s also always seeming to get a needle in her arm, too, but hey, nobody’s perfect!

Consensus: Gritty, dark, disturbing, and ugly, but in all the right ways, Heaven Knows What doesn’t settle for any sort of narrative and instead, gives us a compelling portrait of people’s lives we don’t usually see in movies nowadays, as sad as they may be.

8 / 10

See? The heroin world isn't all that bad! Cuddling's allowed!

See? The heroin world isn’t all that bad! Cuddling’s allowed!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Waiting for “Superman” (2010)

Yup, I’m home-schooling.

The current state of the USA’s education system is not a very pretty one. Kids don’t seem to be learning anything; aren’t getting into college; are falling behind; and are coming nowhere near being able to pass certain grades that they should. They have it lucky, though! Some kids aren’t even getting into schools and instead, find themselves on the streets, without a book in hand or an adult to lead them across the way. This is where our independent teachers come in to show what a single person can do if they show love, dedication, and passion for teaching, and helping kids learn.

Before I step past the gates of hell and go all out with my thoughts and opinions, let me just tell you a little something about me. I’m not rich, my family’s not rich, and we sure as hell wouldn’t be considered high-class. My father has a job that has amazing benefits. With that being said, my parents never seemed to take the one road and send me to public school, considering they thought it would be a waste of time and I would learn little to nothing (my parents’ thoughts, not mine). That’s why they sent me to a catholic school from the 1st, to the 8th grade, but after that was a bit of a problem.

See, my older sissy had gone to a very nice, productive, and expensive private school, passed there with flying colors, and got into a very good college (Providence, go Friars!), but the problem was what the hell my parents were going to do with me: the black sheep of the family. Throughout grade school, I never really was knocking each and every test out of the park. I struggled, studied, and did my best. Was it always perfect? No, but my parents felt as if it was time for me to give myself a bit of a challenge and send to me to the same private school that they sent my sister to, as not only did it work for her, but got her a career as an accountant (if you’re reading this Siobhan, you’re the bomb!).

Look on the bright side kid: third is the one with the hairy chest.

Look on the bright side kid: Third is the one with the hairy chest.

Did it work? Not really.

Not only was the private school a challenge for me, academically, but also personally. I got involved with people I shouldn’t have, got myself into extracurricular activities that I shouldn’t have bothered with, and barely even opened up a book. After a dismal Freshman year, my parents decided that it was time to start a fresh and anew, and sent me back to my roots: Catholic school. This was something I was very happy about because I knew it’d be an easier, more efficient use of my time, and a lot of the people there, would be the people I had known all of my life. After that, I graduated high school and am currently still in college, where I duke it out with professors and collegiate books, each and every day. Some days are better than others, but hey, it’s school.

What the hell else am I gonna do with all of my time?!?

Most of you are probably wondering one thing after that whole speech: “What in the hell was that all about?” Well, I used that as a way to show you that not only can I barely connect with any of these kids when it comes to getting the right education and struggling to keep their grades up, but I also don’t really know what it’s like to really dedicate myself to school. I’ve always gotten by just by doing my thing, didn’t need much help from teachers, tutors, mom, dad, etc. – just got by the way I needed to. But no matter what my report cards may say about my dedication to work, I still know that each and every kid deserves a chance to learn, read, and write, and the fact that most aren’t getting that out there doesn’t just upset, it downright fuels me.

Watching this movie, made me realize just what it’s like to be a teacher, in-and-out of the classroom. The movie does paint some bad pictures of those teachers that are part of Unions, and in ways, rightfully so, but what this movie does do, is that it celebrates the profession of a teacher. A teacher is the person that stands there, teaches you whatever subject it is, helps you in anyway that they can, and never gives up, no matter how many obstacles may stand in your way.

That’s the definition of a real teacher, but not every, single one is like that.

In fact, a lot more teachers are starting to become more and more of a bore, than a chore, in the way that they just take attendance, sit down, read the paper, and wait till their time is up so that they can collect their money, and be off to roam throughout the country. They don’t even need to do anything, and it doesn’t matter to them because they’ll never be fired for their piss-poor performance. They will always have tenure on their contracts, will always be supported by the Union, and may never, ever be questioned for what it is that they do right, and what they do wrong. Are those the types of people you want looking after your child and his/her future?

I know I sure as hell don’t and I don’t think I stand alone.

Writer/director Davis Guggenheim knows this and knows that it’s better to change the ways of the school system, before it goes on any further and totally loses our kids. It’s sad to see kids like these lose their hopes of ever making it in life, doing what they want to do, learning whatever it is that they have a fiery passion for, and also be able to make a living off of it, all because schools don’t help them, and refuse to really let them grow, not just as people, but as students. It’s a sad reality that we live in, but it’s the reality that most people are faced with and it’s even worse to know that it never ends. Whenever a kid leaves school, he always needs to be taught something, whether it be manners, school work, or just life lessons in general. That’s where the parents kick in and I think that’s the most important pieces of learning there is.

At age 8, she is about 500 steps ahead of me already. Go get 'em, girl!

At age 8, she is already 500 steps ahead of me. Go get ’em, girl!

Guggenheim knows this and doesn’t let us turn a blind eye to it. The problem I think he runs into, is that he focuses a bit too much on the fact that Charter schools are the way to go. Now, to be fair, he doesn’t outright say that in his narration, but he does show that more and more people are learning their options towards charter schools because they are free, prosperous, and will most likely, help your kid learn more. These are all true, but do we really want our kids having to go through a lottery in order to make sure that they can get an education? But hey, those are my thoughts and mine alone.

It doesn’t reflect poorly on the movie, because, well, it’s incredibly well-done. Guggenheim lets us know pretty early-on that he has a certain connection to the school system and makes his case by focusing on the right people who deserve it the most. Sure, the more-attentive teachers out there get a lot more attention than others, but it’s the families and the kids who have to wait around and work the hardest that they can to ensure that they get the education that they want.

It’s a very hard-hitting documentary that never loses it’s steam because it has such an emotionally-charged subject at hand. If you feel as if the world we live in, where people seem to be getting dumber and dumber by the second, and are losing faith in reading a book, and gaining more faith in watching a 20-second video of some dude in an afro falling on his facethen see this movie for the painting it portrays of the world. However, your on personal-beliefs might just center on what you think is best for your kid, his/her needs, and how they learn in school. Whether or not you want to send your kid to a school or not, is totally up to you. Just know, that there are always teachers around, no matter where you go. Whether it be you, or a person who actually gets paid to exhume knowledge on others.

Consensus: Teachers, moderators, parents, and kids may all react to Waiting for “Superman” differently, depending on what type of their own, personal status may be, but one can’t deny the fact that it paints a grim, but hopeful picture of what our future looks like, in terms of in the classroom and out.

8.5 / 10

Yeah, Bill feels the same as a poor, single-mother trying to send her kid to a charter school.

Bill feels the same as a poor, single-mother trying to send her kid to a charter school.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Glory (1989)

Yes. People did go to war over the Confederate flag.

During the Civil War, the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was one of the more infamous troupes, due to the fact that they were, for the most part, filled with black men. Some were freemen from the North, others were slaves, but all of them were under the command of Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), a commander who is still reeling from the affects of the warfare he’s experienced in his lifetime. Already, before they even set out for battle, there was already plenty of trepidation towards the 54th, because some believed that blacks could not be controlled, or commanded in such a way that would have them prepped and ready for war. Despite this, Shaw, along with his second-in-command (Cary Elwes), try their hardest to not only discipline the soldiers, but even relate and connect with them, as hard as it may seem to do. Some soldiers, like John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), are more than willing to go along with all of the problems they encounter fighting for a country that doesn’t accept them as human beings, whereas others, like Trip (Denzel Washington), aren’t and want the whole unit to know that they aren’t fighting for freedom at all – they’re just fighting to die. Obviously, this causes problems between each and everyone and all culminates in the disastrous attack on the Confederate fort in Charleston, S.C.

Goofy-looking 'stache.

Goofy-looking ‘stache.

Glory is, as most people say, a “classic war film”. Not to take any spit out of that statement, but that’s sort of true. It’s a very good movie, in fact, and one that shows both the humane, as well as harsh realities of the war. At the same time, however, it’s also a film about slavery, and how two races can simultaneously connect to one another, while also having to prepare for a war that they may not actually win and come away alive from. Edward Zwick clearly had a lot on his plate here and it’s one of the many things that makes Glory a solid war film that deserves to be seen by any person out there who either, loves film, history, or a combination of the two.

But, that doesn’t make it a perfect movie, as some may call it.

For one, its extremely dated in the way the story is told. What I mean by this is that rather than getting a story about black people trying to get by under extreme war-conditions, told by a black person, we are told the story through their white commander, as played by Matthew Broderick. It’s understandable that the reason for this is to show how the black soldiers are helping to make Shaw open his eyes a bit more to the realities that, well, believe it or not, African Americans are humans, too. Even though he lives in a world where slavery does exist (although, not for much longer), he knows that these black men are just as honest and humane as he is, which is why we see the tale told, in his own words, through his own eyes, and in his own way.

However, at the same time, it sort of feels like a disservice to the actual black folks in the story. Why are we being told that these fellas are all magical and lovely people, when we can clearly see that happening, right in front of our very own eyes? Did we really need to deal with Shaw’s voice-over to begin with? In all honesty, probably not, because it’s already understood that Shaw will start to warm up and grow closer to these black soldiers that are under his command. So, for anything else to be thrown on, makes it feel like stuffy and, well, a bit schmaltzy. Not saying that it didn’t happen in this way, but the way Shaw is used as our heart and soul of the story, makes Glory seem like it’s taking the easy road out – rather than letting the story be told by those who are most affected to begin with.

But, everything else about Glory, aside from that little nugget of anger, is great.

Like I stated before, Zwick clearly had a lot to work with here, and he does so seamlessly. He gives enough attention to the black soldiers that matter most and show how each and every personality can, at times, clash, while at other times, rub against one another to create a far more perfect and in-sync union. No character here is made out to be a perfect human being, and because as such, it’s easy to sympathize with these characters early-on – and makes it all the more tragic to realize that, in all honesty, they aren’t really fighting for much.

There’s one scene in which this is presented perfectly when Denzel Washington’s Trip goes on about the fact that even when the war is over and everybody goes home, he’ll go back to whatever slum he’s been forced to stay in, whereas Shaw and his white counterparts will be able to head back and relax in his big old mansion, and continue to live his life of total luxury. This scene, above all else, drives home the point that these soldiers may, yes, be fighting for their lives, but are doing so in a way because, quite frankly, they have nowhere else to go, or nothing else better to make up with their time. Most of the soldiers are slaves, so therefore, they have no freedom to begin with; however, even the ones that are free, don’t really have much to do except still be treated as minorities and non-equals, although not as harshly as slaves.

Mediocre 'stache.

Mediocre ‘stache.

So yes, it’s a very sad tale, if you really think about it. But Glory shows that there is some light to be found in the folds. There’s heart, there’s humor, and above all else, there’s humanity here that shows that each and everyone of these soldiers were, race notwithstanding, human beings. And because of this fact, the performances are all the more impressive by showing the depth to which these characters are portrayed.

Though Broderick’s Shaw didn’t really need to be the central figure of this huge story, he’s still solid enough in the role to make me forget about that fact. Ever since Ferris Bueller, it’s known that Broderick has always been trying to get past that image and, occasionally, he’ll strike gold. This is one of those times wherein we see Shaw as not only a clearly messed-up vet of the war, but also one that has enough pride and courage to still go back to the battle and ensure that each and everyone of his men are fit for the same battle he will partake in. Cary Elwes is also fine in showing that, even despite him being more sympathetic to the slavery cause, still has to push his men as far as he possibly can, without over-stepping his superior, obviously.

But, as expected, the best performances come from the three cast-members who get the most attention out of all the other black characters: Andre Baugher, Morgan Freeman, and of course, the star-marking turn from Denzel Washington. As an educated, smart and free black man, Baugher’s character faces a lot more tension from the rest of the black soldiers, and his transition from being a bit too soft for all the training, to becoming a far more rough, tough and gritty one, is incredibly believable. Freeman, too, stays as the heart and soul of the black soldiers and proves to be the one who steps up the most when push comes to shove and a leader is needed. Freeman, in just about everything he does, always seems to become a leader of sorts, so it’s no surprise that the role here fits him like a glove.

However, the one that shines above the rest is, obviously, Denzel Washington as the rebel of the group, Trip.

And the reason why I said “obviously”, is because it’s well-known by now that Denzel was given an Oscar for his work here and understandably so; not only does he steal every scene, but when you get down to the bottom of the story, you realize that he’s the heart and soul of the whole thing. Without him, this would have probably been a normal tale of blacks and whites coming together, to fight the obstacles set against them, and fight a war, but it’s Trip who’s the one that hits everybody’s head and wakes them up to the harsh realities that is the world they live in. Denzel is, at times, hilarious, but also brutally honest, and it’s his voice that keeps this movie’s humanity afloat.

Now, if only the movie had been about him to begin with and not the white dude.

Consensus: Heartfelt, emotional, and well-acted on practically all fronts, Glory is a solid war picture, that also happens to have a message about racial equality that doesn’t try too hard to hit you over the head.

8.5 / 10

No 'stache at all and guess what? He's the coolest one.

No ‘stache at all and guess what? He’s the coolest one.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins


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